The USS Herbert J. Thomas was a Gearing-class destroyer used by the United States from the post-World War II period through Vietnam. She was named for Sergeant Herbert Thomas USMC, who threw himself on a grenade during the Solomon Islands campaign in 1943 in order to save the men under his command.
Herbert J. Thomas was a product of the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine. Her keel was laid in October 1944; the completed vessel was commissioned under the captaincy of Commander Robert Keith at the end of May 1945.
The Gearing-class was essentially a larger and more heavily-armed version of the previous Sumner-class destroyer, which in turn was an improved version of the highly successful Fletcher-class. The Thomas measured over 390 feet in length with a beam of just under 41 feet. Her dual shafts were powered by two General Electric steam turbines, making her capable of a top speed of nearly 37 knots (about 42 miles per hour) over calm seas. Crew compliment was 336.
Completed too late to see combat duty in World War II, USS Herbert J. Thomas spent the remainder of 1945 and most of 1946 in support of the post-war occupation of Japan. After her return to the States, she was home ported in Newport, Rhode Island. Between 1947 and 1950, she made three deployments to the Mediterranean, carrying out routine operations along the East Coast and in the Caribbean between assignments. In 1948, she was assigned to the Naval Academy in Annapolis as an anti-submarine training vessel, and reclassified as DDR-833 the following March.
Thomas was quite active during the Korean conflict , undertaking extended tours of duty in 1951 and 1952. Moved to a new home port in Long Beach, California in 1953, she returned to Asian waters that summer to enforce a blockade between Formosa (Taiwan) and mainland China. From September 1953 until May 1954, Thomas underwent overhaul and armament conversions at Mare Island near San Francisco. In July 1963, Thomas underwent a year-long FRAM I ("Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) at the Mare Island shipyard, receiving a new superstructure and anti-submarine weaponry among other upgrades.
Thomas made regular deployments to the Far East for the next ten years. She continued in service during the Vietnam era through 1969.
USS Herbert J. Thomas was decommissioned in 1970 and sold to the Taiwanese Navy in 1974. She continued to sail as the ROCS Han Yang (DDG-915) until retired and scuttled in August 1999.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Herbert J. Thomas (DD-833)
Asbestos products have been used in naval vessels like the Herbert J. Thomas since the early 1900’s. Warships employ numerous pieces of equipment that produce high levels of heat, such as boilers and engines. Asbestos was ideally suited to insulating and fireproofing such systems. Unfortunately, asbestos fibers were later discovered to cause serious and often deadly diseases like mesothelioma.
Practically every sailor aboard the Herbert J. Thomas would have suffered some exposure to ACMs (asbestos-containing materials) regardless of his assigned duties. Pipes covered in asbestos ran the length and breadth of the vessel. Crew working in the engineering sections, on heavy machinery, putting out fires, or conducting repairs had the highest level of exposure.
Those working regularly with asbestos materials for months or years of service have a higher chance of developing mesothelioma than those with mild levels of exposure over a similar time period, or a very high level of exposure for a short time. Since this ship poses a known asbestos hazard, veterans of the Herbert J. Thomas injured by asbestos can probably receive some compensation for their injury.Sources
Destroyer History Foundation. "Gearing Class"
Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).
NavSource. "USS HERBERT J. THOMAS (DD-833/DDR-833)"