The USS Walker (DD-517) served in the U.S. Navy for approximately three years during the first half of the 20th century, and for an additional two decades during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. She was named for John Grimes Walker, who served with the U.S. Navy during the 19th century. Walker was built as a Fletcher-class ship.
Walker was laid down in Bath, Maine by Bath Iron Works in August 1942. She was launched in January 1943 and commissioned in April 1943, with Commander O.F. Gregor at the helm. Walker carried a crew of 273 and had a cruising speed of 38 knots. She was armed with five five-inch anti-aircraft guns, four one and one-tenth-inch anti-aircraft guns, four 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Walker began her military duties in the Atlantic and Caribbean regions. She joined the Pacific fleet in 1944, participating in invasions of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and the Philippines. In March 1945, Walker joined a task force that entered Japanese territory to neutralize and weaken the enemy’s air power. After the declaration of peace, Walker entered Tokyo. Walker returned to the U.S. in November 1945 and was later decommissioned and placed on reserve.
In September 1950, Walker was recommissioned. In 1951 and 1952, she returned to the Pacific to participate briefly in the Korean War, escorting fast carrier task forces that supported ground units with strategic air strikes.
Between 1952 and 1964, Walker continued to be deployed in the Pacific. She conducted antisubmarine warfare exercises with the Republic of Korea Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, and completed many goodwill “People to People” visits. She also served as a recovery ship for the space flight project “Mercury” and was used to film the movies None but the Brave and In Harm’s Way.
In 1966, Walker joined the first offensive actions of the Vietnam War. Throughout the following years, she participated in many antisubmarine exercises and often served plane-guard duty.
In 1969, after earning six battle stars for engagements in World War II, two for Korea, and three for service in Vietnam, Walker returned to the U.S. and was officially decommissioned. She was later sold to the Italian Navy and renamed Fante. She was officially retired from service in 1977.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Walker (DD-517)
Nearly every member of Walker’s crew suffered exposure to asbestos, regardless of his assigned duties. The U.S. Navy employed asbestos extensively as an insulator and to fireproof equipment until the late 1970s. Asbestos-based products were found almost everywhere on Walker, as packing in pumps and valves, to fireproof heavy machinery, and even mixed into the ship’s paint.
Dockworkers were also at risk of exposure. Ship repair and construction caused asbestos debris to fill the air at many dockyards. Families of shipyard workers were at risk of exposure because asbestos dust could cling to workers’ uniforms and be carried home. Inhaling individual asbestos fibers has been conclusively linked to the development of malignant mesothelioma. Legal solutions exist for those suffering from mesothelioma and other ailments caused by asbestos.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-517.
NavSource Naval History, USS Walker (DD-517).