U.S.S. John W. Thomason (DD 760)
U.S.S. John W. Thomason was a destroyer of the Allen M. Sumner class, built by the Bethlehem Steel Company in San Francisco. Entering the fleet after the Japanese surrender it saw no service during World War II but would earn seven battle stars for its service in the Korean Conflict and three for services during the Vietnam War.
Commissioned in October 1945, the ship spent its early years conducting shakedown and training operations, including training naval reserves. It departed for its first Far East deployment in December 1948, operating in support of troops stationed in China. A second deployment to the area was conducted in early 1950.
The outbreak of hostilities in Korea found John W. Thomason in San Diego, from whence it sailed to join the Seventh Fleet off Korea. The ship conducted screening operations, patrolled the waters off Wonsan Harbor and conducted shore bombardments.
After conducting anti-submarine operations off Hawaii, Thomason returned to the Korean combat operations in the spring of 1951, operating with the aircraft carriers Princeton and Boxer, both World War II veterans. In late May, joined by the battleship New Jersey, the ship provided heavy bombardment of installations at Yang Yang.
After a respite in San Diego, Thomason returned to Korea in 1952, providing gunfire support and shore bombardment, before departing to the waters off Formosa. It returned to Korea for more gun support operations before leaving for the United States, arriving in San Diego in July. The following February the ship once again headed to the Korean waters to support carrier operations. In July Thomason engaged in a gun duel with three Korean batteries, effectively silencing them.
After the armistice, for the next several years Thomason conducted peacetime cruises and training in the Far East and South Pacific. In 1959 it returned to the United States for overhaul and modernization. After completion it operated in the Pacific around Hawaii and California, conducting training and anti-submarine warfare exercises.
John W. Thomason deployed to the Vietnam area in 1965, returning in 1966 and 1967. Its duties there included search and rescue operations for downed aviators, carrier screening and support, and providing on-call gunfire support for activities ashore. It made a final deployment to the area in 1969, performing similar duties.
John W. Thomason was decommissioned in December 1970, and stricken from the Naval Register in 1974. Eventually sold to Taiwan, the vessel remained in the Taiwanese service for another 26 years.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. John W. Thomason
During the period John W. Thomason was built most war planners, unaware of the existence of the atomic bomb, expected the war against Japan to go on for several years, culminating with invasion and conquest of the Japanese home islands. The need for ships to support such a massive undertaking drove builders to complete them as quickly as possible. Builders at all shipyards used materials with which they were most experienced many of which contained asbestos. Because of its superior resistance to heat and fire, as well as its durability, asbestos was the main source of insulating materials for pipes and bulkheads, deck plates and tiles, seals and gaskets and many other materials. Boilers were lined and packed with asbestos. Fire retardant devices, such as fire curtains all contained.
During the service life of the John W. Thomason, serious efforts to rid ships of the hazardous materials were not attempted. Extensive exposure to asbestos dust and fibers was likely in all areas of the ship, as the dust from deteriorating insulation could be picked up on sailor’s clothing and distributed throughout the ship by the ventilators. Dislodgement of asbestos from pipe lagging during day-to-day operations, exacerbated by the ship being tossed about during heavy weather or while firing its guns would have been unavoidable.