The USS Wiltsie (DD-716) remained on the Navy list for three decades in the mid-20th century. She was named for Captain Irving D. Wiltsie who commanded USS Liscome Bay during World War II. Wiltsie was a member of the Gearing class of naval destroyers.
Wiltsie laid down at Newark, New Jersey by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in March 1945, launched in August, and commissioned in January 1946 with Commander Raymond D. Fusselman in command. Carrying a crew of 336, Wiltsie featured an armament of ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, six five-inch anti-aircraft guns, twelve 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and eleven 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns.
Wiltsie sailed for the Far East in January 1947, where she operated out of Tsingtao, China on two deployments, the second of which involved the evacuation of Americans and other foreign nationals during the Chinese Civil War. Wiltsie arrived at San Diego in June 1949, took part in a mock invasion of the Hawaiian Islands in August, and then underwent overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard from December 1949 to April 1950. Wiltsie served during three Korean War deployments in the early 1950s, and between 1953 and 1961, served on seven tours of the western Pacific. The destroyer underwent a 10-month FRAM overhaul at Pearl Harbor in 1961.
Wiltsie was deployed during the Vietnam War in January 1965 where combat roles included plane guard, anti-submarine screening, picket, and patrol duties. The destroyer returned to the west coast in July and, while stopped at Guam on the next deployment, was struck by a fuel barge. Wiltsie sailed on to Vietnam within several hours, and after enduring combat operations and conducting several rescues, arrived back at San Diego in March 1968, where she operated as a school ship until June.
After two more tours of duty at Vietnam, Wiltsie sailed to the Far East for peacetime operations in the western Pacific in 1972, including during the Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program in the Sea of Japan. Wiltsie received a total of 15 battle stars for her wartime service, and was decommissioned in January 1976, sold to Pakistan in April 1977 under the name Tariq, and became the flagship of the Pakistani Navy in January 1990. The former Wiltsie was renamed Nazim and then decommissioned in 1998 for continued use by the Pakistan Maritime Navy.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Wiltsie (DD-716)
The U.S. Navy was an early adopter of asbestos, making extensive use of the mineral fiber in ships from the 1930s until the late 1970s. They favored asbestos insulation and fireproofing because it was ideal for maritime use: efficient, durable, low cost and readily available. Gearing-class vessels featured asbestos in almost every compartment. It shielded vital systems against intense heat, insulated many electrical cables, and fireproofed many ship sections.
Wiltsie’s crew was exposed to asbestos fibers. The mineral was used in so many applications on the ship that it would have been nearly possible to avoid all contact. At greatest risk for exposure were those performing tasks that required almost daily interaction with asbestos materials. Electrician, boilerman, welder, and engineer were all hazardous assignments in this regard. Unfortunately, any asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, so all Wiltsie sailors are at risk.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-716.
NavSource Naval History. USS William M. Wood (DD-716).