Navy Veterans who served aboard the USS America, a Kitty Hawk class aircraft carrier, were placed at risk for exposure to asbestos and for mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos that takes decades to develop.
The USS America (CVA/CV-66) was a Kitty Hawk class super carrier built by Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and commissioned in 1965. The USS America was 990 feet-long and propelled by four steam turbines and eight boilers. The aircraft carrier was built for a complement of 502 officers and 4684 crewmen; she carried about 79 aircraft. The America was deployed three times to serve in the Vietnam War; she also served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The America spent most of her time in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic before she was expended as a target in May 2005.
The boilers, turbines and steam pipes used to propel the aircraft carrier were all heavily insulated with asbestos insulation materials. The asbestos products included asbestos gaskets, packing, pipe insulation, asbestos powder and cement. At times, sailors were required to wear asbestos clothing and gloves as well. Asbestos materials were present in the dining and sleeping areas of the ship and throughout the mechanical areas. For Navy veterans who served aboard the USS America, exposure to asbestos was virtually inescapable. And yet, the asbestos and equipment manufacturers did little to nothing to warn the sailors of the dangers of Navy asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
USS America’s Deployment in the Vietnam War
In April 1968, the USS America was deployed to Yankee Station for her first tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Reaching the South China Sea in May, the America took part in exercise “NEWBOY” and on May 31, 1968, began launching aircraft against the North Vietnamese. During 112 days and four line periods on “Yankee Station,” the USS America’s aircraft took aim at trucks, watercraft, roads and fuel storage areas as part of the effort to stop the flow of soldiers and supplies to the south. Later on, the USS America and the carrier’s embarked air wing, CVW-6, received the Navy Unit Commendation for their achievements during that time.
The USS America’s second Vietnam deployment came in April 1970, with air wing CVW-9 on board. By May 26, the America had reached the Gulf of Tonkin and began to catapult bomb-laden aircraft into combat. This time, the USS America spent 100 days on Yankee Station in five line periods as her aircraft struck at waterways and roads and at all manner of transportation used by the enemy to shuttle soldiers and war materials to the south.
In June 1972, the USS America received a change of orders just three says before she was to sail to the Mediterranean. Instead, she was deployed for the third time to Vietnam. She joined the Seventh Fleet later in June and began combat operations on the twelfth of July, though for only a short time since a ruptured main feed pump sent the carrier back to Subic Bay on July 25 for repairs. On August 9, the America was back on the line, launching planes against communist targets in North Vietnam, including the Thanh Hoa Bridge, a major target. The America continued operations, off and on, at Yankee Station through February 1973 when one phase of the war had ended. The USS America was awarded five battle stars for her service during the Vietnam War.
During the Vietnam War, the USS America was repaired or overhauled at least three times – a nine month overhaul in 1969 at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, a two month overhaul in 1971, again at Norfolk, and another period of repairs and alterations during the summer of 1973. These periods of repair and overhaul provided opportunities for the men to become exposed to significant levels of asbestos insulation, on top of the exposure they received every day while aboard ship. During a ship overhaul, old asbestos products are ripped out and new asbestos is installed. Performed in the close confines of a Navy vessel, the work was extremely dusty and put men at risk for exposure to asbestos and for malignant mesothelioma cancer.