The USS Walke (DD-723) served in the U.S. Navy for three decades in the mid-20th century. She was named for Commodore Henry A. Walke who served during the American Civil War. Walke was commissioned as an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer.
Walke was laid down at Bath, Maine by the Bath Iron Works Corporation in June 1943, launched in October, and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard in January 1944 with Commander John C. Zahm in command. Supporting a crew complement of 336, Walke 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.
Walke began her overseas service with the Normandy invasion in June 1944, where she fired on enemy positions onshore and then protected minesweeping operations at Cherbourg. Walke returned to the United States in July, and then was deployed to the western Pacific in August, conducted training exercises in Hawaii, and served with aircraft carriers during key battles in the Philippines throughout the rest of the year.
Walke was attacked by enemy aircraft in January 1945 and sustained extensive damage. She was patched up at San Pedro Bay and temporarily repaired at Manus before continuing on to Mare Island Navy Yard. Repairs were complete by April, and Walke was on duty for the Okinawa invasion in May 1945. Walke remained in Japanese waters until late September, and operated in support of atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in May 1946.
Following repairs at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Walke was stationed at San Diego, and was on reserve there from late June 1947 until October 1950. Walke was then deployed during the Korean War on three different occasions, and then participated in routine exercises in the Western Pacific and the west coast. Following an FRAM II overhaul in 1961, Walke was deployed on four combat tours of Vietnam in 1964 and 1965.
Walke participated in anti-submarine warfare exercises on the west coast after September 1965 and, in June 1966 suffered a fire and subsequently ran aground while being towed back to port. Walke then alternated between west coast exercises and deployments to Vietnam and the Far East over the next several years, and served in the region for the last time in 1969. The destroyer was put on reserve at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from November 1970 until 1974, when she was struck from the Navy list. Walke was sold for scrap to the General Metals Corporation in March 1975.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Walke (DD-723)
Walke insulated her boilers and many of her compartments with asbestos. Hot pipes ran the length and breadth of the ship and were cloaked in insulation that contained the mineral. Asbestos was also used to fireproof pumps and engines. The versatile but dangerous mineral was added to so many materials used on Navy vessels that no section of Walke was guaranteed safe from asbestos contamination.
Although nearly everyone on the ship suffered asbestos exposure, those laboring with the ship's heavy equipment were most frequently exposed. Sailors performing damage control also had a greater risk, as the impact of enemy fire often stirred up clouds of toxic asbestos dust. Inhaling asbestos can lead to the development of malignant mesothelioma. Legal options are generally available to those who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-723.
NavSource Naval History. USS Walke (DD-723).