U.S.S. Tutuila (ARG-4)

Tutuila was a repair ship specializing in internal combustion engines. She served in WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam.

Construction

She was originally laid-down by the Maritime Commission as the cargo ship Arthur P. Gorman on 11 August 1943 at the Bethlehem Steel Co. in Baltimore, MD. Shortly before her launching, the Navy took control of her and renamed her Tutuila. She was converted to a repair ship at the Maryland Dry Dock Co. and commissioned on 8 April 1944.

Service

Tutuila had a short shakedown in Hampton Roads before heading out to the South Pacific. She joined Service Squadron 10 in the Solomons in early August 1944. Her services were needed for a variety of patrol craft, small auxiliaries, and landing craft, all of which used diesel or gasoline engines for power. She aided allied forces in preparations for the Philippines campaign and subsequently followed them across the Pacific. During the vicious fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Tutuila operated out of Manus Island in the Admiralty chain. She remained there until the Philippines were secured in May 1945, when she transferred to Leyte.

At the end of hostilities, Tutuila prepared for the occupation of Japan. In company with repair ships Jason, Whitney, and 11 smaller vessels, she set out for Japan on 30 August. En route, the force was hit by a typhoon. Slower than Jason and Whitney and possessing the necessary gear and experience to repair them if needed, Tutuila stayed back with the small ships while other two repair vessels made a rapid transit through the storm. Tutuila and all 11 of her consorts weathered the storm and made port at Okinawa on 2 September. The ship remained in Japanese waters until 8 April, when she sailed for Texas and her decommissioning.

The invasion of South Korea by its northern neighbor brought much of the decommissioned fleet back into service, and on 7 May 1951, Tutuila joined them. Steaming into Norfolk, VA on the 30th, she joined the service division of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In this capacity, she served up and down the east coast, with trips to Cuba and Nova Scotia. She carried a troop of Explorer Scouts on one of these trips, and while returning from another, rendered aid to the crippled merchantman William Johnson.

October 1962 brought the infamous Cuban missile crisis, and Tutuila was called into action. After stops in Norfolk and Morehead City, NC, she sailed for Puerto Rico. From there, she provided direct support to ships operating in the blockade of Cuba. At the end of the blockade, the ship sailed for Norfolk, encountering a storm that rivaled her 1945 typhoon along the way. Tutuila returned to the Caribbean in April 1965, giving aid to Santo Domingo, war-torn capital of the Dominican Republic. Through May she coordinated efforts to supply the city with fuel in the wake of rebel attacks. Upon her return to Norfolk, Tutuila prepared for the final conflict of her career, the war in Viet Nam.

On 9 May 1966, Tutuila left Norfolk and set a course for the Pacific for the first time since 1944. A new generation of patrol boats, landing craft, and riverboats were operating off the coast of Viet Nam and in its bloody Mekong River, and all of them were powered with diesel and gasoline engines. Tutuila relieved Krishna on 19 July and set to work repairing and replenishing these little vessels. In August, the repair ship took an active role in combat for the first time in her career. She took aboard a contingent of South Vietnamese troops and landed them on the southern shores of Phu Quoc Island. She later supplied them with ammunition via boats. Tutuila transferred to Vung Tau on 8 October to provide direct support for “brown water” navy operations in the Mekong Delta. She operated between Vung Tau and An Thoi until January 1969, when she underwent overhaul at Yokosuka, Japan. Returning to Vung Tau on 14 May, she repaired the light freighters Brule and Mark before restarting her work with landing craft and patrol vessels.
Tutuila spent the rest of her Navy career at Viet Nam. Her tireless work repairing and supplying coastal vessels, patrol boats, and landing craft was rewarded with three consecutive Naval Unit Commendations. Late in 1971, it was decided that she would be transferred to the Taiwanese Navy, a common fate for support ships and coastal vessels at the end of the Viet Nam War. She departed Vietnamese waters for the last time on 1 January 1972. At Hong Kong, Tutuila prepared to leave U.S. naval service.

Fate

She was decommissioned on 21 February 1972 and simultaneously struck from the Navy List and transferred to Taiwan. Renamed Pien Tai, she entered service as a supply vessel, remaining in that capacity until 1979. It is unknown what happened to her after that time.

Risk of Asbestos Exposure

As a steam powered vessel built during WWII, Tutuila would have been rife with asbestos. Used as an insulator for steam boilers, piping, and engines, asbestos was present in large quantities on all U.S. Navy steam vessels from the 1930’s until the 1970’s.

Asbestos-based products can break down into tiny fibers when damaged or worn. These fibers can easily spread throughout a ship via ventilation ducts. Inhalation of asbestos fibers is a proven cause of mesothelioma, a malignant cancer of the lungs. While there is no cure for mesothelioma, common cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can be used to fight the disease.

If you or someone you know served aboard Tutuila 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.

Resources/Further Reading

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