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USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619)

The USS Andrew Jackson was one of nine members of the Lafayette class of submarines in the U.S. Navy, designated SSBN-619. She served as a ballistic missile submarine for nearly 30 years and was named for the seventh president of the United States. Commissioned in the early 1960s, the Andrew Jackson largely operated during the years of the Cold War and played an important role in testing and deterrent patrols throughout the world.

Like many other ships in the U.S. Navy built before the 1970s, the USS Andrew Jackson was constructed using asbestos in many parts. Controlling heat and fire is particularly important for safety on a submarine, so asbestos was used throughout the ship to keep crew safe. Unfortunately this use of asbestos was also responsible for harming some veterans, who years later were diagnosed with asbestos exposure illnesses.

About the USS Andrew Jackson

The USS Andrew Jackson was a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine of the Lafayette class. The nine Lafayette submarines built upon the Ethan Allen-class of ships with a larger overall size, larger missile tubes, increased firing rate of missiles, and better technology for firing missiles. The Andrew Jackson and the other Lafayette submarines were part of the 41 for Freedom, a group of ballistic missile submarines that had the maximum total number of missile tubes allowed by the 1972 SALT Treaty. Together they acted as sea-based deterrents.

The Andrew Jackson displaced 8,380 tons when submerged, was 425 feet in length, and was propelled by two General Electric turbines. She was powered by a nuclear source and could hold a complement of two crews, each made up of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men. The Andrew Jackson was commissioned in 1963 and decommissioned and struck in 1989. Her motto was: One man with courage is a majority.

Construction and Upgrades

Ordered on July 23, 1960, the USS Andrew Jackson was laid down on April 26, 1961 and was constructed at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California. She was launched on September 15, 1962 and was commissioned on July 3, 1963 under the command of Commanders Alfred J. Whittle, Jr. and James B. Wilson.

Over her years of service the Andrew Jackson underwent a number of upgrades, largely to the missiles she carried. She was initially built with the Polaris A-2 missile, but was later fitted with the Polaris A-3, which had a longer range, and then with the Poseidon C3 missile. No major repairs were needed during her service.

Active Service

After the commissioning ceremony, the USS Andrew Jackson was ready for shakedown training off the coast of Florida. Here she launched two A-2 missiles. She then launched the A-3 Polaris into space on October 26, 1963. This was the first such launch to be conducted from a submerged submarine. President Kennedy was there to witness the launch of the missiles at Cape Canaveral, just days before his assassination.

Following training and shakedown, the Andrew Jackson returned to Charleston, South Carolina for post-shakedown upgrades. In May of 1964 she joined the Atlantic Fleet and went on her first deterrent patrol. These patrols were continued for the next nine years, with a home base at Rota in Spain. After a return to the U.S. for missile upgrades, the Andrew Jackson conducted acoustic trials in the Caribbean beginning in 1975.

In 1976 she returned to active duty and deterrent patrols around Scotland and Nova Scotia. Her patrols continued around Scotland for the next decade. August 27, 1987 was the ship’s final active patrol, and 69th total. After a decommissioning ceremony, she powered to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard where she was recycled as part of the Submarine Recycling Program.

Asbestos Use on the USS Andrew Jackson

Like so many other ships in the U.S. Navy, submarines like the USS Andrew Jackson were built using asbestos in hundreds of materials and components. The heavy use of asbestos in ships began in the 1930s and continued until federal regulations slowed the use of this mineral in the 1970s. Asbestos was chosen for a long period of time because it is so efficient and effective at insulating and fireproofing, two important qualities for ship materials. Additionally, asbestos was inexpensive and lightweight.

Asbestos on ships was used to insulate heat-generating equipment, such as engines, boilers, turbines, and reactors, and to insulate pipes carrying heated water or steam. On submarines the torpedo rooms were also areas of the ship in which asbestos use has been documented. Specifically, it was used in the gaskets used in flanged valves. Asbestos was also likely found in electrical equipment, drain valves, insulating cloths, and many other components.

Asbestos Exposure

While most types of navy ships contained asbestos, the risk of exposure was heightened on submarines. Exposure occurs when the tiny fibers of asbestos get into the air and are inhaled. In the cramped and closed-off spaces of a submarine, there is little opportunity for ventilation and fresh air. Any loose asbestos fibers simply circulated through the ship.

Anyone on board could have been exposed, but those put at the greatest risk were the men who worked in close contact with asbestos materials, like those who worked in the torpedo rooms or with the turbines that propelled the ship. Workers in the shipyard that built the USS Andrew Jackson and those that made repairs and upgrades were also at risk of exposure as they disrupted asbestos materials, potentially releasing the harmful fibers.

Veterans have made claims with the Veterans Administration, including veterans of the USS Andrew Jackson. In one instance, a man who served on the Andrew Jackson reported he was exposed to asbestos while serving on the ship in the 1980s. He recalled being near an asbestos lagging crew, ripping asbestos materials out of the ship. He later developed a respiratory illness and filed a claim with the VA for compensation.

Veterans in the U.S. Navy were put at risk of exposure to asbestos, on the USS Andrew Jackson and others, even after the regulations of the 1970s. While some may have worn protective gear while handling and working around asbestos, others did not and many got sick later as a result. If you served on one of these ships and believe your active service contributed to an illness you can get help filing a claim with the VA.

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