U.S.S. Albert W. Grant DD-649 (Destroyer, Fletcher Class)
The History of the U.S.S. Albert W. Grant:
The U.S.S. Albert W. Grant was named for Albert W. Grant, who was raised on a pioneer homestead in Wisconsin. Eventually, however, Grant found his way to sea and rose to the rank of Vice Admiral, serving finally at the Norfolk Navy Yard. Grant was an early advocate of torpedoes…which were to be an important part of the future U.S.S. Grant’s future arsenal. Yet, as the decades would show, asbestos was also a common part of building a vessel such as the Grant: and were even important in some parts of a torpedoes wiring. Appropriately, the U.S.S. Grant would begin her service at Norfolk.
The U.S.S. Albert W. Grant and her crew played a role in many pivotal encounters, helping to break Japanese island garrison resistance: by the end of WWII, the ship and crew had won seven battle stars and a Navy Unit Commendation as well. When Macarthur returned to the Philippines, the Grant was an escort vessel.
The Albert W. Grant’s keel was laid in the Charleston Navy Yard only days before 1943, which was a tough time in the Pacific Theater for Allied forces. Launched in May of 1943, Grant’s granddaughter was there for the christening. At a light 2,050 tons, the Grant was designed to run at a maximum 35.2 knots.
Repairs and Upgrades
With a crew complement of 273, the Grant faced tough duty, which frequently prevented getting repairs at a regular dock. One hard campaign followed another, from the Marianas invasion, then Saipan, the Solon Islands, and eventually for the American fight to return to the Philippines. In October 1944, she faced her toughest ordeal. At the Battle of Surigao Strait, the vessel was racked with enemy shelling. Asbestos (which later proved slowly deadly to so many) may that day have saved lives aboard the Grant as fires broke out. Still, thirty-eight sailors died and one hundred and four were wounded. Fantastically, despite a severe list threatening to capsize the Grant, the crew restarted the engines and saved the vessel.
Limping to safety, the Grant then was hit by a hurricane. Once again, the weary crew worked to save the ship, seemingly oblivious to the risks, including the undisclosed dangers of exposed asbestos. The same asbestos risks weren’t confined to the emergency repairs made by crewmembers during the hurricane: the Grant spent three months getting extensive refits and repairs when she finally reached the Navy Charleston shipyard.
Finally, the U.S.S. Grant made it safely to Pearl, for emergency repairs. She worked her way slowly back to Seattle for more extensive repairs, and then to Mare Island where major repairs were affected. In the decades since, it became evident that the dangers of asbestos had jeopardized scores of workers, from the laying of keels to repairs such as were made by drydock Navy crews. Once done, the Grant was back to the Philippines, eventually serving occupation duty in Japan.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Albert W. Grant (DD-606)
By the end of the Pacific War, the U.S.S. Albert W. Grant required another extensive refitting and was sent to Pearl. Since then, experts have pointed to the use of asbestos in pipe fittings, insulation, fire equipment, and even ships’ mates tools (coated in asbestos) commonly used in vessels such as the Grant.
As with many other potentially useful battle vessels, the Grant spent a long time in dry dock. During these years, there was still little attention paid to the deteriorating asbestos aboard her. Finally, in 1972, Levin Metals acquired the vessel and broke her up for scrap. By the end of the 1960s, the Navy had finally begun to come to terms with the need for safer handling of asbestos.