The USS Willard Keith (DD-775) remained on the Navy list for nearly three decades in the mid-20th century. She was named for Captain Willard Woodward Keith, Jr., a Marine Corps Reserve officer who served in the Guadalcanal campaign during the Second World War. Willard Keith was built as an Allen M. Sumner class naval destroyer.
Willard Keith was laid down at San Pedro, California by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in March 1944, launched in August, and commissioned in December with Commander Lewis L. Snyder in command. Carrying a crew of 336, Willard Keith had a displacement of 3,218 tons and was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, eleven 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, six five-inch anti-aircraft guns, and twelve 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns.
Willard Keith operated out of the Precommissioning Training Center at San Francisco until mid-April 1945, and then sailed for the western Pacific. From Pearl Harbor, the destroyer was deployed to Okinawa in late May for screening and radar picket operations. Willard Keith then conducted anti-shipping sweeps in the East China Sea, and then performed screening duties for occupation forces as well as courier services after the war ended. She served as flagship of Commander, Task Flotilla 1 while serving at Nagoya and returned to the west coast by Christmas 1945.
Willard Keith was then transferred to the East Coast, where she was repaired at New York and engaged in fleet exercises at Newport, Rhode Island. Operations in Cuba, the British West Indies, and Puerto Rico followed, and Willard Keith joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet in June 1947, reactivated when the Korean War began in 1950. Willard Keith operated in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and northern Europe until sailing for Japan in November 1953 via the Mediterranean. She served with the United Nations Blockading and Escort Group and returned to the west coast in March 1954.
In March 1955, Willard Keith underwent overhaul at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and served with Destroyer Squadron 22 in the Atlantic and Middle East. The destroyer also operated during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and, in October 1963, began her career as a Naval Reserve Training ship. Willard Keith was decommissioned in July 1972 and then transferred to Columbia as Caldas, where she was broken up for scrap in 1977.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Willard Keith (DD-775)
Because asbestos is highly resistant to heat and flames, it was the primary means of fireproofing for many systems and compartments aboard Willard Keith. Engines, turbines, and boilers all contained asbestos insulation. Asbestos-covered pipes ran through many corridors. Paints and cements were mixed with asbestos fibers to increase their fire resistance and durability. No area of Willard Keith was completely free of asbestos.
Crewmen working on heavy machinery aboard Willard Keith had a greater degree of exposure, as did sailors serving as electricians and welders. Engineering assignments were also more dangerous, because asbestos dust was more common in engine and boiler rooms. Breathing air contaminated with asbestos was the most common means of exposure for sailors. Tiny asbestos fibers cause mesothelioma by damaging the thin tissue that surrounds the lungs and other internal organs.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-775.
NavSource Naval History. USS Willard Keith (DD-775).
USS Willard Keith, History.