The USS Fletcher (DD-445) served in the U.S. Navy for nearly three decades in the mid-20th century, and earned 15 battle stars for her service in World War II, and five stars for Korean War service. She was named for Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher who served in World War I. Fletcher was the lead vessel of her class of destroyers.
Fletcher was laid down in Kearny, New Jersey by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in October 1941, launched in May 1942, and commissioned in June with Lieutenant Commander W.M. Cole in command. Carrying a crew of 273, Fletcher was armed with five 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, four 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Fletcher sailed from the east coast to New Caledonia in October 1942 for escort and patrol duty at Guadalcanal. She also patrolled during the troop landings at Espiritu Santo in November. Following the Battle of Guadalcanal, Fletcher operated as an anti-submarine patrol off Noumea, and later in the month engaged Japanese forces during an incident in which one Japanese destroyer was sunk and Fletcher rescued survivors of Northampton with cargo nets.
In February 1943, Fletcher supported troop landings on the Russell Islands and aided in the bombardment of Munda airfield in March. She then sailed to Sydney, Australia before operating in the Solomon Islands for a month, and then was overhauled at San Diego, California in December 1943. In January 1944, Fletcher was deployed to the Marshall Islands to screen transports, bombard the enemy on Wotje Atoll, and also screen battleships off Taroa and Wotje in February.
Fletcher supported troop landings at Humboldt Bay in October and also operated with troop transports for the Leyte invasion in November. Similar duty was carried out in support of the Luzon Attack Force in January 1945. During the battle, Fletcher fired on enemy stations, covered minesweepers, and rescued survivors of YMS-48. Fletcher was also involved in the troop landings at Puerto Princess, Palawan, and Zamboanga, and then was assigned to routine exercise off Hawaii and San Diego. She was placed in reserve in August 1946.
Fletcher was re-commissioned in October 1949, and was assigned to the 7th fleet in the western Pacific in May 1950. During this deployment, Fletcher served during the Korean War, and then participated in anti-submarine training off Okinawa in November 1951. Fletcher was deployed annually to the Far East from 1954 through 1962, and was decommissioned in October 1969.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Fletcher (DD-445)
All ships of this era posed an asbestos risk. The mineral was used nearly everywhere to insulate and fireproof compartments and key systems. The exposure risk on a ship increased as the ship aged, particularly for ships involved in combat operations. Fletcher’s 20 battle stars indicate that she may have suffered significant wear and tear while serving. The impact of enemy fire and the shock caused by firing her own guns almost certainly dislodged asbestos dust. Inhaling that dust sometimes lead to mesothelioma. Veteran sailors suffering from asbestos cancer can often obtain compensation for their injury through legal action against the companies that made the asbestos products on their ship.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-445.
NavSource Naval History, USS Fletcher (DD-445).