The USS Norris (DD-859) served in the U.S. Navy for two and a half decades during the middle of the 20th century. She was named for Benjamin White Norris, a U.S. Navy officer killed during World War II’s pivotal Battle of Midway. Norris was built as a Gearing-class ship.
Norris was laid down in San Pedro, California by Bethlehem Steel in August 1944. She was launched in February 1945 and commissioned in June 1945, with Commander T.A. Nisemann at the helm. Norris carried a crew of 336 and had a cruising speed of 36.8 knots. She was armed with six five-inch anti-aircraft guns, twelve 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, eleven 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Norris began her service in the Pacific in February 1946. This first deployment was focused on anti-smuggling efforts along the Korean and Chinese coasts. In the fall of 1948, Norris was reassigned to the Atlantic fleet and reclassified as an escort destroyer (DDE-859). Her first outing in this capacity was a deployment to the Mediterranean in July 1949, which was waylaid by the outbreak of violence in Korea. Norris was redirected to Korean waters.
While supporting operations in Korea, Norris provided gunfire support during the Hungnam evacuation and rescued South Korean citizens adrift in the ocean. She returned to the US in 1951. Beginning in 1952, Norris engaged in an extended period of service that included multiple trips to the Mediterranean, support for NATO Operation Mainbrace, and time with the Atlantic fleet’s hunter-killer force. She was on hand for the 1956 Suez Crisis and later called at a number of South American ports.
In 1961, Norris received a fleet rehabilitation and modernization (FRAM) upgrade and was reclassified as a general-purpose destroyer (DD-859). During the 1960s, she supported the quarantine during the Cuban Missile Crisis, returned to the Mediterranean, and supported recovery efforts for a NASA mission. Norris also spent some time in Vietnam during the conflict in that region, firing on shore targets and supporting troops.
Norris was eventually decommissioned in 1970. She was stricken from the Navy list in 1974 and transferred to Turkey, where she was renamed Kocatepe. The vessel was eventually broken apart and sold for scrap in 1993.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Norris (DD-859)
Asbestos had many characteristics that made it seemingly perfect for use in naval vessels. Its durability, resistance to heat and fire, and low cost combined to make asbestos materials common amongst the ships of this period. It was later discovered that exposure to asbestos could cause mesothelioma, an aggressive and deadly cancer.
Norris was insulated and fireproofed with asbestos. The mineral was used most often in engineering spaces, particularly in and around boilers, engines, pumps, and turbines. No compartment on the ship was completely free of the mineral, as it was often mixed into the paints and cements used for shipbuilding.
The crew of Norris was exposed to asbestos during their service. Those involved in her FRAM upgrade may have had the greatest risk, as their work likely required them to remove and replace asbestos insulation. Handling worn or damaged asbestos products can release dangerous fibers into the air, greatly increasing the hazard to workers. If you or a loved one became ill with an asbestos disease after serving aboard Norris, you may have a legal right to compensation.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-859.
NavSource Naval History, USS Norris (DD-859).