The USS William B. Preston (DD-344) served in the U.S. Navy for two and a half decades in the early 20th century. She was named for William Ballard Preston who served in the Virginia House of Delegates, the United States House of Representatives, and as the Secretary of the Navy. William B. Preston was built as a Clemson-class ship.
William B. Preston was laid down by the Norfolk Navy Yard in November 1918, launched in August 1919, and commissioned in August 1920. Carrying a crew of 114, William B. Preston was 314 feet, five inches long and armed with four 4-inch rapid-fire guns, one three-inch anti-aircraft gun, and twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes.
William B. Preston was assigned to trials and training off the east coast until being assigned to the Asiatic Fleet in 1922, and operated out of Cavite in the Philippines, and Chefoo, China in the summer. William B. Preston served in the Yangtze River during the Chinese Civil War in 1926 and helped evacuate Americans. In March 1927, William B. Preston battled Northern Chinese troops and snipers, along with Noa, and received the Yangtze Service Medal for her actions.
William B. Preston returned to the United States in 1929 and was based at San Diego, California, and assigned to the Battle Force. She was decommissioned and put in reserve at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October 1934. When World War II began in Europe, William B. Preston was converted to seaplane tender AVP-20 at New York Navy Yard, and when re-commissioned in June 1940, was reclassified as destroyer-seaplane tender AVD-7.
In September, William B. Preston began operations out of Pearl Harbor and performed routine exercises and offshore patrols. She began a second tour with the Asiatic Fleet in December 1940 in the Philippines, and was stationed in the Davao Gulf when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. William B. Preston evaded enemy aircraft in the Celebes Sea and the Moro Gulf, before arriving at Darwin, Australia in 1942. At Darwin, she was assigned to stock spare parts, food, and replacement crews for PatWing 10.
William B. Preston and her aircraft tender were attacked at Darwin in February 1942, sustained serious damage, and lost several crew members. Following overhaul at Sydney, William B. Preston continued duty as a seaplane tender. William B. Preston returned to the United States in September following assignment to Service Force, Pacific Fleet, and operated off the California Coast. She was decommissioned at Philadelphia in December 1945, and was sold for scrap to the Northern Metals Company in November 1946.
Asbestos Risk on the USS William B. Preston (DD-344)
The new technologies and methods introduced in the period of the industrial revolution brought about a demand for asbestos products like insulation. Because asbestos is an excellent fire retardant, it became the primary material used to fireproof seafaring vessels beginning in the early 20th century. The Navy understood the value of fireproof insulation aboard its ships and continued to use it up to the 1970s.
Since asbestos was installed in so many places, practically all members of the crew were exposed during the course of their career. Crews working at a dry-dock were also potentially exposed to asbestos-containing materials. Boilermen, boilermakers, shipfitters, pipefitters, engineers, and others who had to cut and shape asbestos-based materials were at the highest risk of exposure to damaged asbestos fibers. Modern medicine has found a compelling relationship between the inhalation of frayed or broken asbestos fibers and the emergence of malignant mesothelioma.
The legal system offers options for veterans and civilian workers who have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please fill out the form on this page to request a free information kit to learn more.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-344.
NavSource Naval History, USS William B. Preston (DD-344).