U.S.S. Collette DD-730 (Allen M. Sumner-Class, Destroyer)
The History of the U.S.S. Collette: Motto, Virtus Velox
The Collette entered service in a crucial time of combat against Japan. The vessel was named for Lieutenant Commander John Collette, an aviator who died in 1942 while leading his US Torpedo Squadron against the Japanese on Santa Cruz Islands. The Collette’s first commander was his brother, James Collette. The U.S.S. Collette served as a screening ship for one of the Pacific Theater’s largest carrier task forces.
In Korea, the ship was instrumental in helping roll back the Chinese, by supporting the invasion at Inchon. The crew received a Navy Unit Commendation for her work at Inchon. The Collette remained on active duty until 1960 and was actually commissioned until 1970. This was about the same time asbestos policy changed for the better. The Collette and her crews won twelve battle stars: six for her crew’s service in WWII and six more in Korea.
The U.S.S. Collette had her keel laid on October 11, 1943, at one of the oldest shipyards on the East Coast. The Collette launched less than six months later, in March of 1944. The Bath Iron Works in Maine had earned a special reputation both in meeting naval deadlines and innovative designs. Bath Iron Works also used asbestos at various times, and for different purposes. But even with its excellent reputation, many of Bath Iron Work’s most famous vessels used asbestos despite the increasingly likely knowledge (by most manufacturers) of asbestos’s serious health risks.
After her launch, the Collette had a brief shakedown cruise and was on her way to Pearl Harbor in the fall of 1944. The U.S.S. Collette was assigned to screening work with what was to become the famous Fast Carrier Task Force.
Repairs and Upgrades
After leaving Pearl in 1944, the U.S.S. Collette was in constant battle use through the early part of 1945. She was instrumental in shelling Japanese island strongholds, and eventually pulled close enough to shell Honshu itself (the Japanese mainland) in 1945. Experts later noted these intense periods of combat readiness often meant repairs were delayed, dealing with exposed asbestos was often considered to be less pressing than defending against Japanese attacks.
In fact, even if the U.S.S. Collette required extensive overhauling in 1945, it had to wait for America’s frantic last push into Tokyo Harbor itself. Collette steamed into Tokyo Harbor on September 14, 1945. The desperate need for overhauls, however, saw the U.S.S. Collette leave for the US mainland only four days later. Experts later studied these times of overhaul, noting the common replacement of asbestos, from inside vessel hulls, as well as from engine rooms and pumps. The Collette was never decommissioned after WWII. Instead, she was present when official hostilities began in Korea.
Not until 1960 did the U.S.S. Collette get its nickname “Power In Motion.” Though entering her third decade, the vessel earned the name, with her extensive refits and updates. Asbestos was not only a potential risk to the construction workers, but to anyone involved in these very common repairs and upgrades to an aging US Naval warship such as the Collette.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Collette (DD-730)
Though asbestos was a known medical risk by the time the U.S.S. Collette was built, there were virtually no safeguards for those who were exposed to asbestos. A lawsuit (Bath Iron Works v. Jones) brought by a former Bath Iron Works employee (a pipe coverer) exposed the possibility of wide and common use of asbestos on a vessel such as the US Collette. Similar lawsuits later helped show that these workers’ tools, covered in asbestos, might have held asbestos risks.
Many of the asbestos risks on vessels such as the Collette, with long periods of activity at sea, were made much worse when repairs were made at sea, under cramped, stifling conditions. Asbestos could be present in many unexpected places on ships such as the U.S.S. Collette, since asbestos was used to prevent fire as well as to insulate and protect engine equipment and weapons systems.
What to do with a mothballed ship became a more acute problem as asbestos worries mounted in the 1970s. Eventually, the proud U.S.S. Collette was sold to Argentina, who towed her away. In 1988, the Collette (renamed the Piedra Buena) was sunk in an Argentine missile exercise.