U.S.S. Mayrant DD-402 (Benham-Class Destroyer)
The History of the U.S.S. Mayrant:
The U.S.S. Mayrant was named for John Mayrant, who served in the Revolutionary War, as a Midshipman under the command of John Paul Jones on the famed Bon Homme Richard. Mayrant achieved Admiral’s rank, and the vessel named for him later acted as an escort vessel for President Franklin Roosevelt on a 1940 tour of new Caribbean naval posts, which the US had acquired from Britain. The bases, acquired in a “vessels for bases” deal between the two allies, was coincidental in many ways…including the fact of Great Britain’s having cut use of asbestos in her vessels for decades. It would not be until the 1970s that US Naval policy dealt with asbestos and its real risks.
The U.S.S. Mayrant and her crew fought in many important parts of WWII encounters, helping to sweep away Japan’s mainland defenders. At the end of WWII, the Mayrant and crew had won three battle stars. Her final service is recorded in the annals of the opening nuclear bomb chapters of the Cold War, in 1948.
The U.S.S. Mayrant DD-402 became part of a desperate American attempt to catch up with the world tide of battle. She was designed and launched as one of the pre-WWII Benham-class destroyers. The reliability of the small class (only 10 were made) showed by her durability…eight were retired, but two vessels were lost in combat.
The U.S.S. Mayrant was constructed at the Boston Navy Yard, with her keel having been laid on April 15, 1937. A fourth-generation descendant of Admiral Mayrant’s christened the vessel at her launching. By the time she entered WWII, she had another famous descendant aboard: FDR, Jr. was the ship’s commander.
Repairs and Upgrades
With a crew complement designed to be only 184, many at-sea emergency repairs on the U.S.S. Mayrant were shared by a highly commended crew. This “pitch in and help” attitude of a small crew may also have meant that the later asbestos illnesses were not limited to engineer’s mates and pipefitters, who were most frequently exposed to asbestos. In the need of a particular emergency, anyone on the crew might be exposed to damaged and exposed asbestos or asbestos dust and fibers, during repairs and upgrades.
The early WWII role of the Mayrant also brought her under potentially heavy fire from German air assaults. An example of this risk came on July 26, 1943, off the Italian coast (Palermo). Luftwaffe dive bombers dropped missiles, striking only two yards away. The near-misses caused extensive hull damage. The engineering section flooded. The entire crew fought to keep the electricity on and water out. She reached Malta in August for temporary repairs, and in November limped back to Charleston for extensive refitting. Mattresses were used to stuff the structural holes. Decades later, doctors were to discover these periods of repair often exposed workers to the dangerously exposed and damaged asbestos, which permeated so many WWII era ships and confined workspaces.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Mayrant (DD-402)
As with most ships such as on the Benham-class (into the early 1970s), asbestos remained a common way to cost-effectively guard against fires and high heat. Unfortunately, asbestos also carried high risks of many potentially disabling or even deadly diseases. Only after many years were many symptoms fully understood. Later lawsuits helped prove asbestos had very possibly harmed thousands of crew members and shipyard workers. Evidence also suggested some of those who were exposed “second hand” to the asbestos also suffered.
Other problems came from what to do with the mothballed WWII vessels: especially as admissions about asbestos risks came later. Given later evidence proving connections of asbestos to disease caused by service on so many WWII vessels, the final use of the brave old Mayrant was somewhat ironic. Decommissioned in 1946, the U.S.S. Mayrant was used for atomic bomb testing in “Operation Crossroads.” Surviving the blast, the vessel was too contaminated for any further use and was soon destroyed.
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