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USS Antietam (CV-36)

One of 24 aircraft carriers in the Essex class, the USS Antietam was commissioned in 1945. She was decommissioned and recommissioned multiple times, serving as an aircraft carrier, an attack aircraft carrier, and an antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier, with designations of CV, CVA, and CVS. She served in Japan, during the Korean War, and as a training carrier in Florida. She was named for the site of the Civil War battle.

Although the USS Antietam served her country well and operated in both peace and wartime actions, she was also the cause of illness in many veterans. U.S. Navy veterans had some of the highest risks of any group of people of being exposed to asbestos because of the extensive use of the mineral on navy vessels. The USS Antietam was no exception and she was made and repaired using asbestos in nearly every area of the ship.

About the USS Antietam

The building of the USS Antietam, CV-36, began in 1943 with the commissioning of the aircraft carrier occurring in early 1945. She was built in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and was able to hold 3,448 sailors and officers. The USS Antietam was one of 24 carriers built as part of the Essex class. This was the largest class of carriers in terms of the number of vessels in it. There were short-hull and long-hull Essex carriers, and Antietam belonged to the latter with a length of 888 feet.

Although the Essex ships were crucial for the navy’s operations in World War II, the Antietam was built and commissioned too late to see active duty in that war. She was commissioned under the command of Captain James R. Tague in January of 1945. She earned distinctions by being given two battle stars for service in the Korean War and for becoming, in 1952, the first aircraft carrier in the world to have an angled deck. The USS Antietam was decommissioned in 1963 after nearly two decades of service and was scrapped in 1974.

Service and Deployment

Although her career spanned a little less than two decades and began after World War II, the USS Antietam saw plenty of active, wartime duty. After shakedown in the Caribbean, she was deployed in the Pacific Ocean, heading to Japan and arriving just after surrender occurred and the war ended. She served there for the next few years during the U.S. occupation of Japan. In 1949, USS Antietam returned to the U.S. and was deactivated at the Alameda, California U.S. Naval Base.

Six months after her deactivation, the Korean War began and the USS Antietam was reactivated and was sent into Korean waters by 1951. She was deployed with Task Force 77 for six months. During this period she was active in her only combat duty, four cruises that earned the ship two combat stars. The aircraft missions that launched from the USS Antietam supported the United Nations against aggressions from North Korea.

In 1952, the USS Antietam was given a new designation, CVA-36, as an attack aircraft carrier. During this time, when she was at the New York Naval Shipyard, the USS Antietam underwent major alterations that led to her becoming the world’s first angled-flight deck aircraft carrier. She was important in testing this kind of deck with aircraft takeoffs and landings. After this, she was stationed at Quonset Point in Rhode Island and in 1953 was re-designated once again, this time as an antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier.

With this new designation she was deployed to the Mediterranean where she participated in NATO exercise. She also helped to evacuate American citizens during the 1957 Suez Canal crisis. Later that year the USS Antietam was sent to Mayport, Florida where she became a training vessel. Her remaining active years were as a training vessel in Pensacola. In 1962 Antietam was sent back to Philadelphia where she was decommissioned for the final time in 1974 and sold for scrap materials.

Asbestos use on the USS Antietam

The USS Antietam had an illustrious career in active duty, peacetime trials, assisting U.S. citizens, and in training new pilots and sailors, but she also had a darker history. As with other aircraft carriers and U.S. Navy vessels of other types, she was constructed, refitted, and repaired with asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos was used in hundreds of components of the Antietam and other ships because it excels at insulating and fireproofing, necessary for keeping crew safe at sea. It was also useful because it was inexpensive, readily available, and lightweight. Beginning before World War II and continuing for decades, the U.S. Navy collected and used hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos.

Asbestos was used in many parts of the ship, but especially in insulation and fireproofing. The Antietam and other ships were often sprayed with insulation material on many surfaces to make the ships more fireproof. As insulation it was used especially heavily in boiler and engine rooms, around pipes, in turbines and in and around pumps. Gaskets, seals, ceiling and flooring materials, and fireproof and safety gear were also likely to have contained asbestos aboard the USS Antietam.

Exposure and Illness in Veterans

Any U.S. Navy Veterans serving aboard the USS Antietam were at risk of being exposed to asbestos. That exposure means inhaling the loose fibers of the material, which lodges in body tissues causing damage that can lead to serious illnesses decades later: mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, or asbestos lung scarring. Any asbestos materials that were disturbed by accidents, maintenance, or repairs or that wore down over time, could have released harmful fibers.

Those at greatest risks are the veterans who worked in areas of the Antietam that contained the most asbestos, such as the engine and boiler rooms, or those who performed maintenance and repairs on the ship. Among the documented cases of asbestos exposure and its consequences was the case of a veteran who served aboard the USS Antietam from 1959 to 1962. During an appeal through the Board of Veterans Appeals, it was determined that he had been exposed to asbestos during his service on the ship and that this led to his later diagnosis of asbestosis. This was just one case of many in which navy veterans suffered later because of service on board ships like the Antietam.

If you served on the Antietam or another U.S. Navy ship during a time when asbestos was used on board, you could be at risk for developing an asbestos-related condition. It is important to be screened for these illnesses as soon as possible, as early diagnosis will give you a better prognosis and more effective treatments. You may also be eligible for support, health care, and monetary resources through the Veterans Administration because of your asbestos exposure.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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