USS Benham (DD-396) was the lead ship of her class of destroyers. She was the second of three naval vessels to be named in the honor of Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, an American admiral.
Benham was laid down by Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Kearny, New Jersey on September 1, 1936. Launched on April 16, 1938, Benham was sponsored by Mrs. A.I. Dorr, who was the grandniece of the namesake. Lieutenant Commander T.F. Darden took command of Benham on February 2, 1939.
Following commissioning, Benham was assigned to the US Atlantic Fleet. She patrolled off Newfoundland before heading to the Gulf of Mexico. Benham was then ordered to the Pacific and arrived at Pearl Harbor on April 14, 1940. Benham then spent her time alternating between Hawaiian and Californian waters before serving as an escort for Enterprise on November 8, 1941. This duty, which involved delivering Marine planes to Midway Atoll, lasted through December 8, 1941. As a result, she was not at Pearl Harbor at the time of the infamous attacks.
Following the attacks, Benham served with Saratoga and Enterprise with Task Force 16 off Hawaii. During this time, she participated in the Doolittle raid in Tokyo, which lasted from April 8 through April 25, 1942. Benham then participated in the Battle of Midway from June 3rd through the 6th. During this battle, Benham rescued 188 survivors from Hammann and 720 from Yorktown after the ships had been torpedoed. Benham also participated in the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi as well as the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
On October 15, Benham joined Task Force 64. In this capacity, she served as part of the naval covering force that served off Guadalcanal. From November 14th through the 15th, Benham participated in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. She was hit by a torpedo shortly after midnight on the 15th. The hit took out her bow, forcing her to withdraw from the battle. Benham managed to stay afloat after the attack and started moving toward Guadalcanal, but was eventually forced to abandon ship. Benham’s survivors were picked up by Gwin and her hulk was sunk by shell fire.
Benham received five battle stars for her service during World War II.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Benham (DD-397)
There is a good chance that many crewmen serving or doing repairs on Benham were exposed to asbestos-containing materials. This posed serious health risks as the inhalation and ingesting of asbestos fibers has been found to lead to the development of mesothelioma. The asbestos-containing material on navy ships that were damaged in collision or battle was particularly dangerous because it became friable, meaning the individual fibers became separated from the insulation sending it into the air. In tight quarters with poor ventilation, those breathing in the asbestos dust were at risk of doing so at dangerously high levels.
Asbestos was used in the construction of the USS Benham to prevent fire and insulate compartments, pipes and other machinery. This heat and fire-proof material was found most prevalently in boiler and engine rooms as well as eating and sleeping quarters. The abundance of asbestos containing products aboard the USS Benham created a likely source of exposure for veterans who served on her or who were responsible for repairs and today they may be at risk for developing mesothelioma.
Benham. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center.