The USS Gillespie (DD-609) was commissioned by the U.S. Navy for about half a decade in the mid-20th century, and remained on the Navy list until the early 1970s. She was named for Major Archibald H. Gillespie of the Marine Corps who served in several battles to free California from Mexico. Gillespie was laid down as a Benson-class destroyer.
Gillespie was laid down at San Francisco, California by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in June 1941, launched in May 1942, and commissioned in September with Lieutenant Commander C.L. Clement in command. The Benson-class destroyer carried 208 crew members and was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, six one-half inch machine guns, and four five-inch anti-aircraft guns.
Gillespie departed San Francisco for the first time in December 1942 on assignment to the Aleutian Islands. During this deployment, Gillespie served patrol duties across the islands and participated in the bombardment of Attu Island in February. Gillespie also aided in the eventual sinking of Japanese cargo ship Akagane Maru, and following additional patrol duty, returned to San Francisco for overhaul.
In April, Gillespie transited the Panama Canal for service in the Atlantic, and conducted four round-trip trans-Atlantic escort missions to Casablanca. Re-deployed to the Pacific in January 1944, Gillespie operated during the consolidation of Saidor with the 7th Fleet and also served escort duty between New Guinea and New Britain and the Admiralty Islands.
Gillespie supported the invasion of Biak Island in May and fired on enemy positions at Noemfoor Island in July. Following this action, Gillespie executed patrols and training exercises off New Guinea and the Solomon Islands throughout the summer of 1944. The destroyer served as a protective vessel during the assault on Peleliu in October and remained at Bremerton, Washington from November 1944 to January 1945 for overhaul.
In February, Gillespie escorted various ships of the 5th Fleet to Iwo Jima, and also operated at Okinawa from March to May. Gillespie averted strikes from kamikaze planes, screened various ships out of Ulithi in July and August, and in August and September conducted escort and patrol duties. She was decommissioned at Charleston, South Carolina in April 1946, struck from the Navy list in July 1971, and sunk off Puerto Rico in July 1973.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Gillespie (DD-609)
Whatever the occupational specialty, sailing on a Navy vessel meant almost certain exposure to asbestos. On board Gillespie, asbestos was employed in most compartments, both in machinery and as insulation on steam pipes. The crewmen with the greatest exposure labored in the engine room, maintained heavy machinery, or were assigned to damage control and fire fighting. Inhaled asbestos fibers can lead to a number of life-threatening diseases, including mesothelioma.
The more often a person encounters asbestos materials, the more significant the chances of becoming ill. Repairing fire-damaged asbestos insulation or battle-damaged insulation exposed Gillespie's crewmen and dockyard workers to more dangerous quantities of asbestos than routine work. As it has been clearly shown that exposure to asbestos fibers causes these serious illnesses, courts have often awarded compensation to sailors and dockworkers with mesothelioma.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-609.
NavSource Naval History. USS Gillespie (DD-609).
Historycentral.com, Navy History. Gillespie DD-609.