U.S.S. Alvin C. Cockrell DE-366 (Destroyer Escort, John C. Butler Class)
The history of the U.S.S. Alvin C. Cockrell: Motto, “Cocked And Ready”
This ship and class was named for a US Marine, killed in combat during World War I, Captain Allen Alvin C. Cockrell. The Alvin C. Cockrell DE-366 class, with its 83 sister ships, saw some of the heaviest fighting in World War II, with three vessels in the class lost in WWII. Owing to America’s desperate shortage of ships, some safety concerns were ignored. Vessels such as the U.S.S. Cockrell went to sea, laden with asbestos. For all the speed in her construction, the Alvin C. Cockrell and her sister ships showed hardiness, and many of the vessels continued to be a reliable reservist, well into the 1960s and the Cold War world of the time.
The Cockrell was eventually used in American military policy, and had an important role, from both the Pacific and Atlantic Theaters. The crews of the U.S.S. Cockrell served widely, from a support role in Korea to sentry support in Cuba and to blunt Soviet expansion. The U.S.S. Alvin C. Cockrell, with its 6,000 nautical mile range, answered to the tactical radio call, “White Russia.”
Demand for faster ship production meant the Cockrell’s keel was laid in May 1944, and launched on June 27, 1944. Critics argued (both then and later) that some safety rules, such as indiscriminate use of asbestos in almost every corner of a ship, were ignored. This also reflected many shipbuilding practices of the time. Asbestos, the use of which had been banned in many countries before the war, saw explosive use by US Navy policy and in shipyards, sometimes even tripling in use.
Shipyards of the era, such as Consolidated Steel’s Orange, Texas yard, were later sold to successive owners. But they often failed to avoid the responsibility for what turned out to be a later epidemic of asbestos-related illnesses, both to builders and crew members.
Repairs and Upgrades
Battle conditions undoubtedly led to extensive asbestos exposure for thousands of crew members in the Navy. The extensive periods where the Cockrell had to stay at sea also contributed to asbestos exposure. Equipment, surfaces, and insulation (much of it coated with asbestos) deteriorated under these heavy periods of patrol. Owing to extreme conditions, hard choices were constantly being made about simply keeping vessels afloat. Once, in towing a valuable Naval ‘flying boat,’ the Cockrell’s equipment failed. The Cockrell’s Commander ordered the towed vessel to be sunk by gunfire.
Unknown to most of the crew members was a possibility that extensive uses of asbestos on the USS Cockrell, on gears and machinery used extensively every day, could jeopardize repair crews, but more stealthily than combat.
Asbestos on vessels such as the Alvin C. Cockrell was used over many decades, since a Navy policy to discourage asbestos in vessels didn’t really change until the 1970s. Since the Cockrell remained in reservist status until 1968, this could have meant decades of exposure to asbestos to hundreds of crewmembers, contractors, and shipyard repairmen.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Alvin C. Cockrell (DD-692)
Wartime battle needs on vessels such as the Alvin C. Cockrell DD-692 probably had unnecessary asbestos uses. Various pumps were later shown by asbestos experts to have been able to operate safely without asbestos. But potential dangers of explosions and fire led some manufacturers to insulate some gaskets and engineering machines, which might not otherwise be susceptible to fire or high temperatures.
As these WWII-era vessels reached the ends of usefulness, risks of deteriorating asbestos also became even more common. The U.S.S.. Alvin C. Cockrell was still maintained and updated, even as she entered reservist duty in the 1960s. In replacing and updating the Cockrell’s equipment, the Navy typically did not require what are regarded as “modern” safety procedures for handling asbestos, or asbestos-coated wiring and equipment. In 1969, the U.S.S. Cockrell was towed to offshore California and sunk as a target.