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USS Iowa (BB-61)

The USS Iowa was an important battleship that served in World War II and later conflicts. Not only did she participate in important battles and serve in numerous deployments throughout the world, she was responsible for carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Northern Africa during World War II. She served until 1990, at which time she was decommissioned, struck from the Naval Vessel Register, and was turned into a museum in the Port of Los Angeles.

Like other battleships and navy ships built during the same period, the USS Iowa was constructed with asbestos in many of her components, including those that service men and women had to handle and work with. Anyone who served on the illustrious Iowa was put at risk of being exposed to asbestos. Many veterans later developed asbestos related illnesses, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

About the USS Iowa

The USS Iowa, designated as battleship BB-61, was the lead ship in the last class of battleships made for the U.S. Navy. She was also the fourth navy ship that was named for the state of Iowa. The Iowa led the Iowa class of battleships, and she became the last such leader after the next class—the Montana battleships—were cancelled. She was the only ship in the class to serve in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.

The Iowa led her class of six fast battleships that were ordered between 1939 and 1940. They were designed to act as escorts for the Fast Carrier Task Forces of the Pacific theater of World War II. Like their predecessors, the South Dakota ships, the Iowa ships were fast and included more anti-aircraft guns. The Iowa was 887 feet long, displaced 57,000 tons when full, and could carry over 2,500 men. She was powered by eight Babcock & Wilcox boilers and four engine sets and had four boiler rooms and four engine rooms, some of the areas of heaviest asbestos use on the ship.

Construction and Repairs

The USS Iowa was ordered in 1939, laid down in New York Naval Yard in 1940, launched in August of 1942, and commissioned on February 22, 1943 under the command of Captain John L. McCrea. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was in attendance for the commissioning ceremony. The Iowa was decommissioned and recommissioned several times: in 1949 and 1951, in 1958 and 1984, and was decommissioned for the final time in 1990. She was struck from the Naval Record and donated to be a museum in Los Angeles.

The Iowa had to be repaired and also underwent several upgrades during her decade of service. During active duty in 1945 she suffered damage after being caught in a typhoon in the Pacific. She had to return to San Francisco for repairs and got some upgrades at the same time, including new radar systems. She was given a major overhaul I the 1980s after being reactivated following more than twenty years being decommissioned. At this time she received more modern weapons and was the first battleship to get the Pioneer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, drones that replaced helicopters.

Service and Deployment History

The USS Iowa has a long and distinguished history of important service in the U.S. Navy. For her efforts in World War II and the Korean War, she earned nine battle stars as well as several other awards: the American Campaign Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the United Nations Korea Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and others.

Iowa’s service history began following shakedown training in the Chesapeake Bay in 1943. She was sent that year to Newfoundland to counter a German ship. Her next big job was to take President Roosevelt and others to Algeria for the Tehran Conference and back home again to the U.S. In 1944 the Iowa was deployed to the Pacific Ocean to support airstrikes and other offensive operations against Japan. She also had the job of protecting aircraft carriers during several campaigns and airstrikes. During these operations the Iowa was caught in a typhoon and sustained damage, but lost no lives unlike other ships that capsized and lost many crew members.

After repairs from the typhoon damage were complete, the Iowa was sent back to the Pacific theater to support operations against Okinawa, Hokkaido, and Hitachi. She was present in Sagami Bay to see to the surrender of a Japanese naval arsenal. She then served in Operation Magic Carpet, carrying service men home to the U.S. Following the war, the Iowa served in training exercises and was decommissioned in 1949.

She was recommissioned in the 1950s to serve in the Korean War. She participated in offensive operations against North Korea and supported South Korean troupes. The Iowa also helped rescue men during this wear. After the war she participated in NATO exercises and served in the Mediterranean before being decommissioned again in 1958.

She remained decommissioned until the 1980s when she was upgraded and reactivated as part of President Reagan’s plan to expand the navy. Until final decommissioning in 1990 she served in training exercises with and without NATO. An accident in 1989 led to the explosion of a turret, which killed 47 men. Her last overseas action was to escort Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Asbestos Use on the USS Iowa

The use of asbestos on the USS Iowa has been documented and was extensive. At that time, ships that were being constructed for World War II were all made with asbestos because of its ability to insulate, fireproof, and to provide these qualities without much extra weight. Asbestos was also readily available and inexpensive, and at the time the risks to human health were not well understood.

Some of the heaviest use of asbestos was in the engine and boiler rooms, where it insulated the equipment and prevented the spread of fire. Gear that those who manned weapons on the ship contained asbestos to protect them from burns, and firefighting gear also contained asbestos. Pipes that ran throughout the ship were insulated with asbestos and several other components of the ship used asbestos, including gaskets, valves, and flooring material.

Asbestos Exposure

The men who served aboard the USS Iowa were put at risk of asbestos exposure simply because there was so much of it on board. Anything that disrupted these asbestos materials could cause them to release fibers into the air. These fibers could easily have been inhaled or ingested by crew, leading to harmful tissue damage that caused illness in some decades later.

Those men at most risk were repair and maintenance workers, such as pipefitters who had to repair the pipes coated with asbestos. Also at risk were men stationed in the engine and boiler rooms where asbestos was abundant and ventilation was poor. Anyone on board could have been exposed, but some men were at greater risk than others.

Documented claims made to the Veterans Administration include some from veterans who served on the USS Iowa. One of these veterans developed asbestosis. In his claim he reported that some of his duties on the ship included chipping paint and sanding floors, including in the boiler rooms, activities that could easily have caused asbestos exposure. Another claim from a veteran who developed respiratory illnesses reported that he served on the USS Iowa. He described the asbestos that lined so many of the pipes and walls in the ship.

If you served on the USS Iowa, worked on the ship in shipyards, or worked on or with other U.S. Navy ships that contained asbestos, you were put at risk of developing serious asbestos illnesses. You can make a claim with the Veterans Administration to seek the compensation you need for medical expenses as well as better medical care. Let an expert advocate work with you to make this claim, as the process can be complicated.

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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