The USS O’Brien (DD-725) served in the U.S. Navy for nearly three decades in the mid-20th century. She was named for Captain Jeremiah O’Brien who served in the American Revolutionary War. O’Brien was a member of the Allen M. Sumner class of naval destroyers.
O’Brien was laid down at Bath, Maine by the Bath Iron Works Corporation in July 1943, launched in December, and commissioned in February 1944 with Commander Paul F. Heerbrandt in command. Carrying a crew of 336, O’Brien featured an armament of six five-inch anti-aircraft guns, twelve 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, eleven 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
O’Brien commenced overseas deployment on convoy duty to Scotland and England in May 1944, and then served during the Normandy invasion in June, where she was noted for her excellent gunnery. She was struck by enemy fire which killed 13 crew members. O’Brien then returned to the United States for repairs, and then was deployed to the Philippines. During this deployment, the destroyer was ordered to sink kamikaze-stricken Ward and then rescued 198 survivors of LST-472 in December.
O’Brien was struck again while on patrol at Mindoro Strait, but continued with escort and bombardment duties during the Luzon invasion in January 1945. Repaired in the Admiralty Islands, O’Brien served with aircraft carriers during the assaults on Tokyo, Iwo Jima, and the Bonin Islands. O’Brien then sailed for the Japanese home islands when she was attacked again off Keramo Retto in March, resulting in 50 casualties.
Repaired in California, O’Brien returned to conduct patrols off Japan after the war ended, and from then until mid-1947, operated in the Marianas, Hawaii, and Australia. The destroyer was decommissioned at San Diego Naval Shipyard from October 1947 until October 1950 when she became the flagship of Destroyer Division 132. O’Brien was deployed to the Korean War in March 1951, where she served two tours of duty ending in January 1953.
O’Brien sailed to the western Pacific annually through 1960, and then underwent FRAM II conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1961. In May 1965, O’Brien became one of the first ships to refuel a helicopter in flight. She was assigned to the Taiwan Patrol in August, and then operated during the Vietnam War from November 1965 to May 1967. Following additional operations with the 7th Fleet in 1968, O’Brien was decommissioned in February 1972 and then sunk off California.
Asbestos Risk on the USS O'Brien (DD-725)
Most everyone serving or performing repair work on O'Brien was exposed to asbestos. The mineral was used in insulation, fireproofing, pumps and gaskets. It was wrapped around steam pipes running the length and breadth of the vessel. Sailors with engineering duties often had the highest exposure, but any exposure can have lasting health effects.
The frequent enemy fire sustained by O’Brien during her service was likely to increase the asbestos risk on board. When asbestos insulation is torn, tiny fibers break off from the material and enter the air. Because the dangers of asbestos exposure weren’t well understood at the time, sailors handling damage control and repair duties on O’Brien had little or no protection against breathing the dangerous fibers. Once inhaled, those fibers can lodge in the mesothelium, eventually causing mesothelioma cancer.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-725.
NavSource Naval History. USS O’Brien (DD-725).