USS Agerholm (DD-826)
The USS Agerholm, designated DD-826, was a Gearing class destroyer in the U.S. Navy, active between 1946 and 1978. Her active service included operations as part of the Pacific Fleet during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, important testing and training, and being the first ship to fire a nuclear weapon as an antisubmarine effort.
In addition to many operations in the east and protecting the fleet, the USS Agerholm was responsible for exposing numerous veterans to asbestos. She was built when asbestos use was typical in navy ships and that use put anyone serving on board her at risk. U.S. Navy veterans now have the highest rates of mesothelioma diagnoses of any population because of how widely this mineral was used on ships. Veterans today can seek compensation through the Veterans Administration, but it is little consolation for living with a terminal illness.
About the USS Agerholm
The USS Agerholm was a destroyer in the U.S. Navy, built in Bath, Maine and launched on March 30, 1946. With a fully loaded displacement of 2,245 tons, the 400-foot ship was named for Private First Class Harold Crist Agerholm, a Marine who died during the attack on Saipan in World War II who was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Agerholm was a member of the Gearing class of U.S. Naval destroyers, a large class that included 98 ships built during and just after World War II. The preceding class was the Allen M. Sumner class. Gearing ships were longer, giving more space for storing fuel and allowing them to operate longer and over greater distances. The Agerholm was ultimately sunk in the Pacific during training exercises in 1982 after having been decommissioned in 1978.
Construction and Overhauls
The USS Agerholm was laid down in Bath, Maine, built by the Bath Iron Works Corporation beginning in 1945. She was launched less than a year later in March of 1946 and was officially commissioned by Commander Frank D. Schwartz on June 20, 1946. Rose Agerholm, the mother of the ship’s namesake, sponsored the launch of the ship. The ship sailed to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba after commissioning for shakedown training and subsequent repairs.
The Agerholm underwent several overhauls between active service, with her first in 1950 in California, and again in 1953 after the Korean War. In the 1960s she was overhauled to repair and improve weapons systems and electronics in San Diego and later at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard to receive advanced radar and communications systems. In 1960 she received upgrades, including antisubmarine weaponry as part of the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program.
Active Service and Deployments
The USS Agerholm played an important role in the U.S. Navy for decades. As a destroyer, one of her main jobs was to protect larger vessels, but such ships were also used for offensive maneuvers, as escorts, and for search and rescue. The Agerholm’s first real active service came in 1950 with the start of the Korean War. During her first deployment in the region, the Agerholm participated in shore bombardments and also screened and guarded planes. Her second tour in Korea occurred in 1952 and she returned again in 1953. After the war she remained in the Pacific to help keep the peace.
The Agerholm’s peacekeeping duties continued in the Pacific before she returned to the U.S. in 1955 for an overhaul. She returned to the Pacific for various duties, including nuclear weapons testing. She was the first surface ship to fire an antisubmarine nuclear weapon. After more overhauls, the Agerholm was ready for duty in Vietnam. She participated in naval gunfire support, as a carrier escort, in antisubmarine warfare, and in search and rescue efforts during multiple deployments in the Vietnam War. Throughout the 1970s she alternated between service in the Pacific and training sessions in California before being decommissioned in 1978. The Agerholm was destroyed and sunk in 1982 as a part of training exercises.
Asbestos on the USS Agerholm
The USS Agerholm is known to have been constructed with asbestos in many of her components and in machinery, equipment, and personnel gear. She was made with asbestos because the lightweight mineral is effective at fireproofing and insulating. Ships like the Agerholm contained a lot of heat-generating equipment, with hot water and steam that needed to be insulated. Furthermore, fire aboard ship is extremely dangerous, so fireproofing was important. During the 1940s, asbestos was the material of choice for these purposes.
Turbines, engines, boilers, pipes, and other heated and heat-generating equipment contained asbestos for insulating and fireproofing. Other, smaller pieces of equipment and gear also contained asbestos: safety equipment, firefighting equipment, gaskets, valves, weapons components, deck matting, spray-on materials on walls and decks, flooring, adhesives, and all types of insulation.
Asbestos Exposure Risk on the USS Agerholm
The problem with asbestos is that when the small fibers of this mineral erode or break apart, they enter the air where anyone nearby can inhale them. On a ship like the Agerholm, where workers are in confined spaces and ventilation is limited, inhaling those fibers is highly likely. Some of the men who served on the Agerholm developed respiratory illnesses as a result of that exposure.
The men on the ship who were most at risk of exposure were those that worked in the boiler, engine, and machine rooms with little ventilation and a lot of asbestos. Men who repaired materials, like insulation, that contained asbestos, were also at serious risk because they may have disturbed the asbestos and freed fibers. The men and women who worked in the shipyard building this ship or making repairs and upgrades could also have been exposed to asbestos.
The USS Agerholm is known to have contained asbestos and there are many cases of veterans who served aboard her later developing a number of related illnesses. These include mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, as well as other conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Veterans have to fight to have these illnesses connected to their service and exposure to asbestos during that time. Navy veterans have higher rates of asbestos diseases than nearly any other group of people because so much asbestos was used on ships like the Agerholm.
If you served aboard the Agerholm, or if you served on any navy ship that contained asbestos, you could have been exposed. Your illness now could be related to that exposure and you may be owed compensation and medical care. The Veterans Administration is responsible for providing support to veterans injured or made sick during service, and asbestos related illnesses are included. Take your case to the VA and find out if your claim will allow you to get the compensation you need.
Page Edited by Dave Foster
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