The US naval destroyer Zellars served in two wars and earned a total of five battle stars—one for service in World War II and four for service in the Korean War. She was named for Lt. Thomas Edward Zellars who, as a turret commander aboard the Mississippi, saved that ship from premature destruction in 1924.
Action in World War II and Korea
Pearl Harbor was the setting of pre-combat preparatory training for Zellars before her first major mission as a member of the fleet that subjected Okinawa to a protracted bombardment that was a prelude to invasion. Post-assault, the Zellars experienced a round of close-range battle with three Japanese watercraft on April 1, 1945. The two lead attackers were dispatched by the destroyer’s fully open batteries at 1800 and 3000 yards, respectively, while the third attacker sustained critical damage yet piloted directly into its target’s port hull. While her crew stabilized the fireroom and restored power, the Zellars continued to deliver devastating firepower that negated further attacks from enemy boats and aircraft.
While the Second World War ended before Zellars could re-engage, her arrival in Terminal Island, California weeks after the assault was not the denouement to its career. After extensive repairs and renovations, Zellars detoured through the Panama Canal and stopped at New York’s Naval Shipyard for further checks. Subsequent deployments included but were not limited to a quarter-year with the Atlantic Fleet’s Submarine Force’s torpedo training in the fall of 1947—the Zellars was the training target ship—and shoreline bombardment practice off the Cuban coast before serving nine months in 1951 in Korean waters with other members of the American fleet. The destroyer provided active surveillance and gun support for ground-based United Nations troops and stood down an empty enemy submarine threat.
After the War
After more Atlantic-based cruises and missions that included NATO’s Operation Matchmaker III, the final cruise for the Zellars was a three-month long stint through Mediterranean waters. She finally became a Naval Reserve training vessel upon her return to Newport, Rhode Island in October 1969.
The USS Zellars was decommissioned seventeen months later in March 1971 and subsequently spent twenty months in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard before being was renamed Babr (DDG-7) and commissioned in the Iranian Navy. She has been non-operational since 1994, but has yet to be scrapped.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.