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USS America (CV-66)

There have been multiple aircraft carriers named USS America, but the ship designated CV-66 was a large supercarrier of the Kitty Hawk class. The ship was commissioned and built in 1965 and spent most of her active time in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. She also served a few operations during Desert Storm and Desert Shield from the Persian Gulf and three deployments in the Pacific during the Vietnam War.

USS America was scuttled in 2005 after a dignified career and a dignified end, being used in extensive weapons testing. Despite decades of distinguished service, the USS America has a dark history too. The ship was made with extensive use of asbestos, which caused numerous service men and women to be exposed to this harmful mineral. After serving their country, many of these veterans developed deadly mesothelioma cancer and other illnesses.

About the USS America

The USS America, CV-66, was not just an aircraft carrier, but a supercarrier. She could hold 502 officers, 4,684 sailors, and nearly 80 aircraft. As a supercarrier, which is an unofficial designation for the largest aircraft carriers, the USS America was among the largest warships ever built. Like other carriers, the purpose of the USS America was to deploy and recover aircraft for both peacetime and wartime operations in the U.S. Navy.

The Kitty Hawk class of carriers, to which the USS America belonged, was improved upon from the previous class, called the Forrestal carriers. The improvements and differences included greater size and better placement of elevators for moving aircraft. USS America was constructed in Newport News, Virginia, beginning in 1961 and finishing in 1965. Under the command of Captain Lawrence Heyworth Jr., the ship was officially commissioned in January 1965 at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Over three decades of service the USS America required periodic maintenance and repairs. She underwent maintenance in 1967 and 1969 in Norfolk and again between 1974 and 1975. She again returned to Norfolk for repairs and maintenance in 1976, 1982, and 1987. These were conducted between active service operations.

Deployment and Active Service

The USS America saw plenty of active service during wartime in her 30-plus years of service in the U.S. Navy. Her first deployment followed immediately after shakedown training when she was sent to the Mediterranean at the end of 1965. Her second Mediterranean deployment occurred in 1967 and both were uneventful and involved training exercises. The first casualties seen aboard the America occurred during NATO exercises. The ship was also active during the Six-Day War between Israel and other countries.

After training in the Caribbean in the late 1960s, the USS America was sent into the Pacific to assist with actions in Vietnam. The crew and the ship saw active wartime duty in the Gulf of Tonkin for six months in 1968. A second deployment to Vietnam occurred in 1970 and the ship returned to duties in the Mediterranean in 1971 for training and battle simulations. She again returned to active duty in Vietnam in 1972. After more training exercises in the Mediterranean and North Sea, the USS America was sent back to Norfolk for major maintenance.

Other deployments for USS American included the Indian Ocean in 1981, operations off the coast of Libya in 1986, and support for NATO forces in the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s. The final active deployment for America was in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean between 1993 and 1995. She was officially decommissioned in 1996, but wasn’t scuttled until 2005 when she was used as a testing target off the coast of North Carolina.

Asbestos Use aboard the USS America

The use of asbestos on U.S. Navy ships was ubiquitous for decades. It was especially heavily used beginning in the 1930s and continued through the 1970s. The federal government put restrictions on the use of asbestos, without banning it outright, in the 70s, but this did not eliminate asbestos from navy ships. The USS America was built in the 1960s, a time when asbestos was still being used extensively throughout ships.

The choice of asbestos for use in many of the components on ships was made for several reasons. One of the most important was that asbestos is effective at fireproofing. Fires on ships at sea are particularly dangerous and put entire crews in danger. Asbestos can also insulate well, and for this reason it was most extensively used in boiler and engine rooms and around pipes carrying steam and hot water. Finally, asbestos was used because it was cheap and plentiful.

Asbestos use on most navy ships is documented, but larger ships like the USS American contained the most asbestos. It was used as insulation, but also in many other parts of a ship like flooring, adhesives, gaskets, pumps, ceiling materials, deck matting, fireproof clothing and safety gear, seals, and others. The materials that contained asbestos were used throughout the ship, from mechanical rooms to sailors’ quarters.

Asbestos Exposure and Illnesses in Navy Veterans

Because of this extensive use of asbestos, sailors and officers serving aboard the USS America were at serious risk of asbestos exposure. The possibility of inhaling harmful asbestos fibers was very real for these active service men and women, and that inhalation could cause damage that led to mesothelioma or lung cancer. U.S. Navy veterans have higher rates of mesothelioma because of the use of asbestos on ships.

Those who were most at risk were workers who spent the most time around asbestos and who were more likely to have disturbed asbestos materials, releasing the fibers. Those stationed in machine rooms, boiler rooms, and engine rooms were surrounded by asbestos. Maintenance and repair work also put sailors at greater risk of exposure because they may have had to replace asbestos parts that were worn down or even cut into them. Also at risk were those who worked in the shipyards. The people who built the USS America or worked on repairing and upgrading her were at serious risk of asbestos exposure.

If you served aboard the USS America, CV-66, you could have been exposed to asbestos. It is important to be proactive and to get screened for potential asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Early diagnosis for these conditions is so crucial for having the best treatment options and the best prognosis. If you lost a loved one who served on the USS America and suspect asbestos played a role in his or her illness, or if you served on her and got sick with a respiratory illness, you may have a right to compensation and support. The Veterans Administration provides support for veterans and their families who were exposed to asbestos through active service and became sick as a result.

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