The USS Stembel (DD-644) served in the U.S. Navy for a decade and a half in the mid-20th century, and remained on the Navy list until 1975. She was named for Rear Admiral Roger N. Stembel who served during the Civil War. Stembel was laid down as a Fletcher-class destroyer.
Stembel was laid down at Bath, Maine by Bath Iron Works in December 1942, launched in May 1943, and commissioned in July with Commander T.H. Tonseth in command. Carrying a crew of 273, Stembel was 376 feet, five inches long and armed with five 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, four 1.1 inch anti-aircraft guns, four 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Stembel escorted warships from Puerto Rico to Morocco in October 1943, after operating off Maine and Bermuda. The destroyer then sailed to Trinidad en-route to Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor in mid-November for overhaul. In January 1944, Stembel joined Task Force 58 in support of air strikes at the Marshall Islands. Stembel served during aircraft raids on Truk, Caroline Islands, and then escorted tank landing ships from the Solomon Islands to New Guinea in March.
Stembel, as part of the 5th Fleet and flagship of LST Flotilla 16, served during invasion of Guam in May. In mid-October, Stembel operated off Dulag, Leyte to protect troop landing vessels against enemy submarines and aircraft in the Philippines. Stembel also participated in the Mindoro assault in December, and in January 1945, served with the Lingayen Attack Force. The destroyer operated during the invasion of the Volcano Islands in late January, the assault on Iwo Jima in February, and then at Okinawa in April and May. Stembel participated in the bombardment of the Japanese home islands in July, and then was assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet in May 1946.
Stembel was reactivated in November 1951 and was deployed to the Korean War Zone in June 1952, where she helped bombard Kojo and Wonsan, and also patrolled the Taiwan Strait before returning to San Diego in January 1953. The destroyer served off Korea again from May until December. Following four more deployments to the western Pacific, Stembel was decommissioned at Long Beach, California in May 1958, loaned to Argentina in August 1961 under the name Rosales, and was sold for scrap in 1982.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Stembel (DD-644)
Nearly every compartment of Stembel was contaminated with asbestos fibers. Asbestos was installed in greater quantities in the boiler rooms, turbines, power plants, and other sections containing heavy machinery. In other areas, it was wrapped around steam pipes and mixed into paints, cements, and glue. Gaskets used throughout the ship were often fashioned from asbestos.
Because asbestos was employed in so many applications ship-wide, most of the crew was exposed during the course of their career. When breathed in, asbestos dust can damage the mesothelium, later leading to mesothelioma. Navy veterans are at a greater risk for asbestos-related illnesses than members of any other armed service. The known link between naval service and asbestos disease offers injured sailors legal options.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-644.
http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/destroy/dd644txt.htm) Retrieved 31 January 2011.
NavSource Naval History. USS Stembel (DD-644).
http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/644.htm) Retrieved 31 January 2011.