The USS Higbee (DD-806) served in the U.S. Navy for nearly three and a half decades in the mid-20th century. She was named for Lenah S. Higbee who served as Superintendent of the Nurse Corps and was the first woman to be awarded the Navy Cross. Higbee was built as a Gearing-class naval ship.
Higbee was laid down at Bath, Maine by the Bath Iron Works Corporation in June 1944, launched in November, and commissioned in January 1945 with Commander Lindsay Williamson in command. Supporting a crew complement of 336, Higbee was 390 feet, six inches long and armed with six 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, twelve 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, eleven 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Higbee was converted into a radar picket destroyer at Boston, training in the Caribbean, and joined Carrier Task Force 38 off Japan in mid-July 1945. The destroyer served as a carrier screen during assaults on the Japanese islands and, after hostilities ended in mid-August, helped clear mines and support occupation forces. Higbee arrived at San Diego, California in April 1946, and conducted two additional western Pacific voyages prior to 1950.
Higbee was reclassified as DDR-806 in March 1949 and then joined the 7th Fleet off of Korea. Serving as a screen for Fast Carrier Task Force 77, Higbee spent the Korean War conducting shore bombardments, protecting aircraft carriers, and patrolling the Formosa Straits. Higbee was deployed to Korea three times, and then underwent a major, six-month overhaul at Long Beach, California in 1953.
Higbee was then based out of San Diego, where she alternated between routine exercises at home and six-month deployments to the western Pacific. In 1962, Higbee changed home ports to San Francisco, and then underwent an FRAM overhaul in 1963. Re-designated DD-806 in June 1963, Higbee was relocated to Yokosuka, Japan in the summer of 1964, and operated in support of the 9th Marine Brigade during the Vietnam War in 1965.
Higbee rescued the crew of a French tanker in the South China Sea in September, after it grounded, and then performed gunfire duties off South Vietnam. She returned to Long Beach in July 1966 and, during a subsequent tour of Vietnam in 1972, was struck by a 250 pound bomb. Decommissioned and struck from the Navy list in July 1979, Higbee was sunk during target training exercises in April 1986.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Higbee (DD-806)
Because asbestos fiber is so resistant to fire, it became the primary material for fireproofing seafaring vessels beginning in the 1930s. Asbestos is also an excellent insulator. Ships use many pieces of equipment that produce large quantities of heat, such as turbines and boilers. These systems were usually insulated with asbestos materials. Steam pipes on Higbee were often covered with asbestos as well. Breathing and ingestion of asbestos fibers is strongly linked to a diagnosis of mesothelioma later in life.
The major overhaul of Higbee in 1953 created an additional exposure risk. Handling installed asbestos products can cause them to release individual fibers into the surrounding air, where they are the most hazardous. During the course of her six-month overhaul, it is likely that many servicemen were exposed to this airborne asbestos. Because asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma and asbestosis, there are many legal options for veterans with these diseases.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-806.
(http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/destroy/dd806txt.htm) Retrieved 18 February 2011.
NavSource Naval History. Higbee (DD-806).
(http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/806.htm) Retrieved 18 February 2011.