The USS Willis A. Lee (DD-929) remained on the Navy list for less than two decades in the mid-20th century. She was named for Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr. who served as Assistant Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet during the Second World War. Willis A. Lee was laid down as a Mitscher-class naval vessel.
Willis A. Lee was laid down at Quincy, Massachusetts by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in November 1949, launched in January 1952, and commissioned in October 1954 with Commander Frederick H. Schneider, Jr., in command. Carrying a crew of 360, Willis A. Lee was 490 feet in length and armed with two five-inch rapid fire guns, four three-inch rapid fire guns, eight 20-millimeter anti-submarine weapons systems, four 21-inch torpedo tubes, and one depth charge rack.
Willis A. Lee was reclassified as destroyer leader DL-4 in February 1951 and began operations with the Atlantic Fleet out of Newport, Rhode Island upon commissioning. The destroyer was deployed to the Mediterranean in July 1955 and, following that tour, began air defense exercises off the east coast later in the year. Willis A. Lee was then reclassified as a frigate and took part in anti-submarine warfare exercises in November.
Willis A. Lee transported King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia to the United States in February 1957, and participated in filming operations in the spring to be a part of a cinematic production. An International Naval Review followed in the summer, during which Willis A. Lee conducted anti-submarine and air defense exercises with the NATO fleet in the North Atlantic.
Willis A. Lee operated in the Mediterranean on two occasions before serving as flagship of Task Force 47 for the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the summer of 1959. The destroyer participated in various fleet maneuvers and exercises over the next few years. In 1960, Willis A. Lee embarked on a midshipmen’s training cruise and underwent an FRAM overhaul at the Boston Naval Shipyard in November.
Willis A. Lee participated in rescue operations during Hurricane Esther off Massachusetts, and then spent much of her time testing a bow-mounted sonar system. Testing operations were interspersed with deployments during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and during political unrest in Haiti in 1963. Willis A. Lee conducted her final Mediterranean voyage from November 1966 to May 1967. She was decommissioned in December 1969 and sold for scrap to the Union Minerals and Alloys Corporation in 1973.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Willis A. Lee (DD-929)
Ships constructed in the 1950s relied on asbestos to fireproof and insulate many systems and compartments. The mineral insulated engines, boilers, steam pipes, and generators. Areas with a high fire risk, like galleys and engine rooms, deployed asbestos fireproofing. Most other areas aboard Willis A. Lee contained products made of or mixed with asbestos fibers.
The wear and tear put on asbestos materials at sea could cause them to become friable. Such products could crumble when handled or serviced, releasing dangerous asbestos dust. The high quantity of asbestos on vessels like Willis A. Lee has caused Navy veterans to be disproportionately affected by mesothelioma. Fortunately, sailors that were injured by asbestos while serving are often able to seek compensation from the companies that manufactured the harmful materials. An asbestos lawyer can examine your service history and explain your legal options.Sources