U.S.S. Benewah (APB-35)
Benewah was a Benewah-class self-propelled barracks ship. She served in the Viet Nam War.
Design and Construction
Benewah and her class were built on the hulls of LSTs (landing ship, tank). Unlike barracks barges, which have no internal propulsion, these ships were designed to sail on their own, and used the same diesel power as their LST counterparts. Benewah was laid down at the Boston Navy Yard on 2 January 1945 and commissioned on 19 March 1946.
The ship missed WWII service and remained in Boston to receive crews of decommissioned aircraft carriers. In February 1947 she moved to Green Cove Springs, FL for her first decommissioning. She reentered service 9 November 1951 as part of the buildup during the Korean War. Benewah made several deployments with the Atlantic fleet and was taken out of service again in December 1955. She was partially reactivated in August 1959 to serve as a barracks for crews of ships preparing for commissioning.
As the U.S. took a more active role in the Viet Nam War, barracks ships were badly needed to support growing operations in the coastal and inland waters of the country. In July 1966, Benewah was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to prepare for service again. She recommissioned on 28 January 1967. The work performed on the ship reflected the danger of her new assignment. Benewah’s original armament consisted of two 20-millimeter guns for close-in anti-aircraft defense. During her yard period, the ship received two quad 40-millimeter mounts, two 3-inch/50 caliber mounts, and twenty machine guns. She sailed for Viet Nam on 22 February 1967.
Benewah’s unusual appearance after her refit lead to an interesting incident when she arrived in Vietnamese waters. On 22 April, she passed a U.S. Navy warship that commented via signal lamp, “Welcome to Viet Nam, whatever you are”. The ship took aboard the command staff of River Assault Flotilla One, Task Force 117, and the commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Army’s 9th Infantry. With these important passengers aboard, the ship left Vung Tau and embarked on a series of combat missions in the Mekong River Delta. Benewah embarked crews of patrol boats and riverine infantry forces, increasing her compliment by 1,000.
In 1968, communist forces launched a massive attack against U.S. military posts known as the Tet Offensive. Benewah took action immediately, moving from one battle zone to the next. Her new guns paid for themselves in these actions and she took heavy fire in return. After the offensive broke, the ship returned to her duties on the Mekong River, taking part in all eleven of the joint U.S-South Vietnamese “Coronado” operations. She was often exposed to heavy fire during these missions and her guns were always ready to return fire. During her time “in country”, Benewah also operated helicopters, and in the fall of 1968, she marked the 10,000th helicopter landing on her deck.
The ship continued her service in Viet Nam into 1970. In June, she took part in an incursion in to Cambodia to support interdiction forces on the infamous “Ho Chi Minh” trail. On 27 November, she sailed for a long overdue rest period at Subic Bay in the Philippines. While there, she was assessed for wear and found to be unfit for further combat service. After 43 months in constant service in a war zone, Benewah was worn out. She was reassigned to Subic Bay as a station ship.
Benewah was decommissioned on 1 September 1973. In May 1974 she was transferred to the Philippine Navy, where she served as a hospital ship until 1975, when a fire broke out aboard, gutting her. Subsequently, the veteran ship was sunk as a barrier reef.
Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Benewah was constructed at a time when steam-powered vessels were heavily insulated with asbestos. As a diesel ship, she would not have been equipped with this insulation, but asbestos may have been present aboard in machinery and as an ingredient in vinyl deck tiles.
When worn or damaged, asbestos products break down into tiny fibers. Inhalation of these fibers is a proven cause of mesothelioma, a malignant cancer of the lung. While there is no cure for mesothelioma, common treatments such as chemotherapy can be used to fight the disease.
If you or someone you know served aboard Benewah or worked on her in a shipyard and has contracted mesothelioma, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page to receive free information regarding your rights to compensation.