U.S.S. McCall DD-400 (Destroyer, Gridley-Class)
The History of the U.S.S. McCall:
Named for Lieutenant Edward McCall, the vessel (escorting the carrier Enterprise) had been en route for Pearl Harbor before December 7, 1941. The U.S.S. McCall was to go on to serve alongside other sister ships of the greatest fame in WWII, including the U.S.S. Yorktown. The McCall was unique: she defied using the traditional four-stacks, and had seen her engine system enormously upgraded from the prior Mahan-class destroyer. Other more common ship building practices of the era included massive amounts of asbestos, and many of these risks were not uncovered until decades later.
By 1944, the U.S.S. McCall (one of only four Gridley-class ships) was an important part of the Pacific Theatre, assigned to the powerful “Rapid Task Force” which was fighting its way toward the Japanese mainland. At the end of her service, the McCall and her crew had won nine battle stars.
As FDR sensed America would eventually face Japan in war, he determined to rebuild the US Navy forces. Faced with reluctance to “get involved” in European troubles, the Navy wanted the Gridley-class of destroyer to be flexible in her missions. Asbestos was to be part of this flexibility, owing to its low cost and availability. Innovation in the McCall was evident in her Gridley-class speed: allowing the McCall to reach an estimated 38.5 kn. This was the highest recorded speed for any US Navy destroyer.
The abilities of the McCall to sustain such high speeds had implications for her upkeep and repairs. As history proved, the choice to use asbestos in engine rooms also had troubling results, at least in terms of asbestos exposure, on vessels needing frequent repairs to engine cooling and weapons systems. Many of the ways asbestos was used in a vessel’s construction was surprising, and caused unfortunate health results many years later. One asbestos lawsuit, decades after the first exposure to the asbestos, involved a pump commonly (but not always) used by WWII shipyards.
Repairs and Upgrades
During her heavy pre-WWII service, the McCall and her crew were engaged in guarding and screening other vessels. One of her first engagements in 1941 was an exhaustive search for the Japanese fleet that had launched the attack on Pearl. The task force found only one Imperial submarine, which was sunk. Many years later, it seemed that the costs of these often deadly encounters had a long-lasting effect. After her continued long-term escort and screening missions, the McCall finally steamed home to San Francisco, and spent the last two months of 1943 and early months of 1944 in San Francisco’s Naval Yard for repairs. Once again, any hesitation about using asbestos was secondary to keeping vessels such as the U.S.S. McCall battle ready.
A typical example of the urgency of the crew repairs at sea was in the pitched battle of The Philippine Seas, where the final tide of battle finally turned in the United State’s favor. With advances in WWII technology, the McCall was refitted in New York, as the war wound down. Sophisticated new monitoring equipment was brought aboard in the summer of 1945. In so doing, crew members on vessels such as the McCall who did the refitting were often, once again, exposed to the asbestos used to seal miles of new wiring.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. McCall (DD-400)
The risks on vessels such as the McCall, historians pointed out, often came from some unexpected sources. It did not help that very few crew members ever knew of the dangers of asbestos, Yet, crew members did later complain of breathing asbestos, from many different places on US Naval vessels. Different types of asbestos (with different risks) were used in preventing fires or controlling high temperatures. This meant asbestos was a preferred material inside of many types of ship machinery, even if manufacturers did have reason to know it was potentially unhealthy.
In the 1940s, US Navy had discussed some of the known risks of asbestos with some West Coast shipyard manufacturers. Decades later, as symptoms related to asbestos became obvious, the US Navy finally began changing its asbestos use policy. But these changes came too late for many vessel crew members. The changes to Navy asbestos policy did not take full hold until the 1970s. The McCall had been struck from Navy rolls long before these safety changes. The U.S.S. McCall DD-400, which had protected and screened so many sister ships, was scrapped for metal in 1948 by the Hugo Neu Corporation.