The USS Wadleigh (DD-689) was commissioned by the U.S. Navy for nearly two decades. She was named for Rear Admiral George H. Wadleigh who served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Wadleigh was a member of the U.S. Navy’s Fletcher class of destroyers.
Wadleigh was laid down at Bath, Maine by the Bath Iron Works Corporation in April 1943, launched in August, and commissioned in October with Lieutenant Commander Walter C. Winn in command. Carrying a crew of 273, Wadleigh was 376 feet, five inches long and armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, five 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, four 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and four 1.1 inch anti-aircraft guns.
Wadleigh began her service as an escort for battleship Iowa which transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Egypt, and then sailed to Pearl Harbor in January 1944. In March, Wadleigh was assigned to shore bombardment in the Marshall Islands and then deployed from Hawaii to the Mariana Islands in June. During this deployment, Wadleigh served during the invasion of Saipan, and then helped sink Japanese submarine RO-114 off Tinian.
While operating off the Palaus in September, Wadleigh helped destroy mines and inadvertently struck one, which opened a 40-foot hole on the bottom of the ship. Wadleigh underwent extensive repairs at Mare Island Navy Yard and rejoined Destroyer Squadron 54 in May 1945. After enduring a typhoon, Wadleigh commenced shore bombardments at Rasa Island and then underwent repairs at Ulithi to fix engine problems in August. The destroyer spent two weeks of patrols following Japan’s surrender, and returned to the United States in November.
Assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet at San Diego from January 1947 until January 1952, Wadleigh operated in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico until being deployed to the Far East in May 1954. Wadleigh operated off the coast of Korea, and then China before arriving at Newport, Rhode Island in November. She was then assigned to fleet operations in the Caribbean, which was followed by three deployments to the Mediterranean in the 1950s. Wadleigh returned to Mediterranean waters three times more after 1960, and then operated in support of the spaceflight program in May 1961. She was transferred to Chile as Blanco Encalada in 1972 and broken up for scrap in 1983.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Wadleigh (DD-689)
Serving aboard Wadleigh meant almost certain exposure to asbestos. The Navy began using asbestos aboard its ships early in the 20th century, and continued to use it until the late 1970’s. Asbestos was used to fireproof and insulate compartments, engines, generators, boilers and pipes. No area of the ship was completely free of this versatile but toxic mineral.
Asbestos is at its most dangerous when broken down into individual fibers. The mine damage suffered by Wadleigh is likely to have created an abundance of asbestos dust in the affected compartments. Sailors handling damage control and the shipyard workers that performed repairs were probably exposed to greater-than-normal quantities of asbestos in the air. While no level of asbestos exposure is proven safe, the chance to develop mesothelioma increases with both quantity and duration exposed.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-689.
NavSource Naval History. USS Wadleigh (DD-689).