The name “Tin can sailor” is a term used to refer to sailors serving on Navy destroyers. I had never heard of the term until recently, while researching my 2nd cousin Melvin Holbert, I discovered that he was on the USS Shields (DD-596) as a stewardsman from 1954-56.
Between 18 July 1954 and 30 November 1963, Shields was deployed to WESTPAC seven times. When not assigned to the western Pacific, she engaged in normal destroyer activities out of her home port, San Diego. One of the highlights of this decade of Shields’ career was her participation in the commemoration of the triumphant return of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” to San Francisco. Another important occasion was the award of the Battle Efficiency “E” for overall combat readiness in August 1960 (http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/s12/shields.htm).
Aside from being in a cramped and uncomfortable place in every day there were other health risks associated with serving on destroyers.
- Asbestos Risk on the USS Shields (DD-596)
Because asbestos is essentially fireproof, it became the primary means of fireproofing seafaring vessels beginning in the 1930s. Naval vessels use many pieces of equipment that generate high amounts of thermal energy, such as turbines and pumps. The Navy saw that asbestos could be used in a variety of ways throughout its fleet, particularly as thermal insulation, and continued to use it up to the 1970s.
Sailors on Shields that were primarily employed in repair or maintenance duties generally had the most severe asbestos exposure. The risk was also greater for sailors working in engineering sections and boiler rooms. No member of the crew was completely safe from exposure, as the mineral was also used wrap the vessel’s steam pipes and to pack pumps and valves.
Asbestos material causes mesothelioma by destroying a thin membrane called the mesothelium when it is breathed in. Because exposure to asbestos is the only known cause this cancer, there are usually legal options for Navy veterans suffering from mesothelioma.
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-596.
http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/destroy/dd596txt.htm) Retrieved 26 January 2011.
NavSource Naval History. USS Shields (DD-596).
http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/596.htm) Retrieved 26 January 2011.