Built as a Victory ship by the California Shipbuilding Corporation in 1944, the USS Barnwell was named after the Barnwell County of South Carolina. It was laid down in Wilmington, California, and sponsored by Mrs. M. L. Rhodes. The ship served during World War II with Captain M. M. Stephens in command. It was a Haskell-class attack transport ship.
Asbestos was present in enormous amounts on the USS Barnwell, mostly in the form of insulation. Consequently, everyone who served aboard it was exposed to the toxic mineral, particularly those who had to work directly with asbestos. By inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers from the air, the risk of developing serious diseases such as mesothelioma or lung cancer increases considerably. However, these diseases take between 20 and 50 years to occur, which is why it was only recently that veterans came to struggle with such awful diagnoses. In 1986, the USS Barnwell was sunk as a target.