The USS Wickes (DD-578) served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and then remained in reserve until three decades after first being commissioned. She was named for Captain Lambert Wickes who served in the American Revolutionary War. Wickes was laid down as a Fletcher-class destroyer.
Wickes was laid down at Orange, Texas by the Consolidated Steel Corporation in April 1942, launched in September, and commissioned in June 1943 with Lieutenant Commander William Y. Allen, Jr., in command. Carrying a crew of 273, Wickes was 376 feet, five inches in length 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.
Wickes conducted initial training off Cuba and later from the Caribbean to Maine and Newfoundland. In November 1943, the destroyer sailed from Boston to San Diego and then Pearl Harbor, where she participated in routine exercises before screening vessels returning from the Gilbert Islands. In December, Wickes was deployed to the Aleutian Islands, where she bombarded enemy targets in the Kuril Islands, and raided Paramushiro Island in February 1944.
Wickes underwent minor repairs and received a camouflage pattern at San Francisco in August and returned to Hawaii in September. She was also prepared for duty as a fighter-director ship. Operating briefly in the Marshall Islands and then the Admiralties, Wickes escorted transport vessels to Leyte Gulf in October, where she was assigned radar picket and fighter-director duties.
Wickes participated in battles at Lingayen Gulf in January 1945 and then commenced anti-submarine patrols in Leyte Gulf. In February, Wickes and Young counter-fired on Japanese shore batteries at Corregidor and Carabao Islands. Wickes also participated in the assault on Okinawa in March, where she continued fighter-director and radar picket duties there through May. During this deployment, Wickes fired on kamikaze planes on several successful occasions, and was then assigned to convoy escort duty off the Western Carolines.
Wickes completed overhaul in California by September 1945, but with World War II over, the destroyer was placed in reserve in December and never reactivated. She was struck from the Navy list in November 1972 and sunk during ordnance tests in April 1974.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Wickes (DD-578)
Asbestos had properties that made it seem ideal for use in naval vessels, as it was resistant to heat and corrosion, and nearly fireproof. Thus, the U.S. Navy made heavy use of products containing asbestos fibers on Wickes and other ships of this era. Many sailors were exposed to the mineral during their service, and later developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related conditions. By the late 1970’s, the harmful effects of asbestos exposure were well known, and many of its uses were restricted.
Since asbestos-containing materials were installed in so many places aboard Wickes, nearly every member of the crew was exposed to the mineral at one point or another. Certain jobs suffered from a higher degree of exposure; engineers, boilermen, firemen, and machinists were considerably more likely to come into contact with the mineral. As it has been established that inhalation of asbestos can result in serious illnesses and even death, legal solutions are often available to veteran sailors with asbestos injuries.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-578.
NavSource Naval History. USS Wickes (DD-578).