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The fourth and last ship in the Forrestal class of non-nuclear powered aircraft carriers, the USS Independence was large enough to be known unofficially as a supercarrier. Beginning service in 1959, the Independence spent most of her active years in the Mediterranean Sea but also played an important role during the Vietnam War and in the naval blockade of Cuba during the Cold War.
Like many other U.S. Navy ships, the USS Independence was made with asbestos in many of her components and throughout the ship. Used to protect the crew and personnel from fire and to insulate heat-generating equipment, asbestos unfortunately also caused many U.S. Navy veterans to get sick decades later. Some developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis or other respiratory illnesses and have had to make claims with the Veterans Administration for assistance.
About the USS Independence
The USS Independence was built in the 1950s and was designated CV-62 and later CVA-62 after conversion to an attack aircraft carrier. She was the last member of the Forrestal class of carriers, built throughout the 1950s and the first class of true supercarriers, bigger than any warships before them. These ships displaced more than 70,000 tons and the USS Independence topped out at more than 86,000 tons. She was the second carrier to have the name Independence, the first, a light aircraft carrier sank during weapons testing in 1946.
Like others in the Forrestal class, the Independence was designed and built to carry a variety of jet aircraft. It was particularly designed to accommodate the Douglas A3D Skywarrior, a bomber that needed a special elevator on the carriers that could lift it. The Forrestal carriers also needed to be able to carry more jet fuel than their predecessors. The Independence was built with an angled flight deck, long range search radar, defensive armament, and height finding radar. She could carry 90 aircraft at a time.
Construction and Later Upgrades
Construction of the Independence began in 1955 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City. It took about three years to complete the 1,046-foot long carrier, which was launched on June 6, 1958. Eight boilers and four geared turbines were used to power the ship, and these came from Babcock & Wilcox and Westinghouse, respectively. She was commissioned officially on January 10, 1959 and from there left for shakedown training under the command of Captain R. Y. McElroy. During training in the Caribbean, the USS Independence launched the heaviest aircraft yet from any carrier, the Douglas A3D Skywarrior.
Maintenance and upgrades were made to the Independence over the years to keep her operational longer. The first took place in 1962 and 1963 and then again in 1965. A major overhaul was also done in 1968 at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The next round of major upgrades took place in 1985 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where the USS Independence went through the Service Life Extension Program, a huge overhaul that was designed to give her another 15 years or more of useful service. The upgrades included deck improvements and better fuel efficiency.
Service and Deployment History
During her nearly 40 years of service the USS Independence took part in many important operations and spent much of her time in the Mediterranean. This began in the 1960s during Cold War tensions which saw exercises with NATO, as well as French and British fleets. In 1965 the USS Independence was deployed to operations in the Vietnam War. She stayed there for 100 days in the South China Sea and assisted with important airstrikes against North Vietnamese supply lines.
After the Vietnam deployment Independence spent more time in the Mediterranean. With even greater Cold War tension in the 1970s she was needed there to be on standby in the event that action was needed or U.S. citizens needed to be evacuated from the Middle East. In the 1980s, she responded to the crisis in Lebanon and supported the invasion of Grenada in the Caribbean after a military coup. The Independence also served during Operation Desert Shield in the 1990s. Her final operations were in the 1990s in the South Pacific and off the coast of China. Independence was sent to Puget Sound Naval Yard and was decommissioned in 1998.
Asbestos Use aboard the USS Independence
Aircraft carriers like the Independence, as well as many other vessels in the U.S. Navy, were constructed using asbestos in hundreds of components. Asbestos was used because it is good fireproofing. On ships, a fire at sea can be deadly, so preventing fires from starting or spreading is crucial. Aircraft carriers in particular carry a lot of aircraft fuel, and this makes the risk of fire even more serious. The Independence was built at a time when asbestos use was in full swing, before the dangers of being around it were widely known.
Asbestos was also used on the Independence because of its ability to insulate. Heat-generating equipment like turbines and boilers needed to be well insulated to prevent the spread of heat and further reduce the risk of fires. Furthermore, the pipes carrying steam and hot water around the ship were insulated with asbestos coatings. Many surfaces on ships like the Independence were sprayed with asbestos material for both fireproofing and insulation.
Other areas in which asbestos was used on the Independence include firefighting gear, protective clothing, such as the gloves that gunners used, and other safety gear. Pumps, gaskets, valves, flooring and ceiling materials, adhesives, deck matting, ropes, and many other items on the ship contained some amount of asbestos.
Asbestos Exposure on the USS Independence
The asbestos used on the Independence was supposed to protect her crew and sailors, but the asbestos turned out to cause harm. When small fibers of the mineral are inhaled they stick in the body and cause damage that may later lead to mesothelioma or lung cancer in some people. When asbestos is contained those fibers can’t come loose and cause harm, but there are many ways in which asbestos materials can be damaged and release fibers.
On the Independence some of the people most at risk of being exposed in this way were those who worked in the enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces with a lot of asbestos: engine room workers and boiler room workers. Also at risk were those who maintained and repaired any materials on the ship that contained asbestos. Cutting into pipe insulation, for instance, would have caused fibers to be freed.
Several documented cases of navy veterans who were stationed on the USS Independence and who later developed asbestos-related illnesses exist. These include a veteran who served on active duty from 1966 through 1968 and later developed asbestosis as well as another who was stationed on the Independence and slept near asbestos-covered pipes. The latter veteran developed cancer years later.
Veterans who served on the USS Independence made sacrifices to serve the country and should not have been put at risk for developing preventable, asbestos-related illnesses. They now have a right to claim compensation and health care support through the Veterans Administration (VA). If you served on the Independence and are worried about asbestos illnesses, talk to your doctor about getting screened and getting adequate treatment. Then contact the VA to find out what rights you are entitled to.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate 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.