The aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-18) served from World War II through the Vietnam War. The ship and her crew received battle stars for brave actions in war, but the veterans who served aboard her were also put at risk of developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other respiratory illnesses. This is because the Wasp included many asbestos materials that caused dangerous exposure.
About the USS Wasp
The USS Wasp (CV-18) keel was laid down in March 1942 at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was built by the Bethlehem Steel Company and was initially supposed to be named the Oriskany.
The USS Wasp (CV-7) sank during her construction, and so the name was changed to honor the lost aircraft carrier. The Wasp launched on August 17, 1943, and was commissioned under Captain A.F. Sprague on November 24, 1943.
The Wasp was a carrier in the Essex class, which included twenty-four ships, all built during World War II. These ships provided the backbone of the U.S. Navy during the war.
The Essex ships replaced the Yorktown class of aircraft carriers. They were larger, could carry more aircraft, and could launch and deploy aircraft more efficiently with deck-edge elevators and a longer, wider flight deck.
The USS Wasp was 872 feet long and displaced over 36,000 tons when fully loaded with personnel and aircraft. She was decommissioned after the war but recommissioned again in the 1950s, reclassified as an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-18). She later became an antisubmarine carrier (CVS-18) and served during the Vietnam War.
The Wasp was also instrumental in the NASA space program, recovering astronauts from five Gemini missions. The Wasp was decommissioned for the final time in 1972 and was shortly afterward sent for scrapping.
Construction of the Wasp and Later Upgrades
It took just a little over one year to build the USS Wasp in Quincy, Massachusetts, at the Fore River Shipyard. She was constructed to carry over 2,600 men and officers as well as between 90 and 100 aircraft.
The Wasp underwent shakedown in 1943 and was sent back to Quincy to fix some aspects of the ship that did not work as well as they should have.
After the war, she went to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs and upgrades. Bombs had hit her in the Pacific during the war. After these repairs, she went to the New York Naval Shipyard for upgrades that would make way for the use of jet aircraft.
The USS Wasp returned to the U.S. for repairs again in 1952 after suffering damage in a collision with a destroyer. In 1955 she received upgrades in San Francisco and underwent an important conversion to make modern updates to the ship and her equipment. These upgrades included an angled flight deck that allowed for better aircraft launches. She also went through standard maintenance in Boston throughout the 1960s.
Deployment and Active Service
The USS Wasp was built during World War II specifically to serve in that war. She deployed to the Pacific Ocean and served in numerous operations in 1944 and 1945.
The aircraft she carried were involved in many essential airstrikes against Japan. After the surrender of Japan, the Wasp served in Operation Magic Carpet, transporting thousands of troops back home to the U.S.
In the 1950s, the Wasp participated in NATO exercises in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. She also participated in several goodwill missions.
Later in the 1950s, refitted as an antisubmarine carrier, she was deployed again to the Pacific before being sent back to the Atlantic.
In the 1960s, she also served in the space program, recovering Gemini astronauts from the ocean. In 1962 the Wasp deployed to the Caribbean to serve as part of the blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis.
Asbestos Use on the USS Wasp
Like many other ships built for the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the USS Wasp was built using asbestos. Hundreds of asbestos-containing products, materials, and parts were used because of the mineral’s effectiveness as an insulator and a lightweight fireproofing material.
Some of the heaviest use was in the engine and boiler rooms and in and around the turbines that powered the ship. This heat-generating machinery needed to be insulated and fireproofed.
The ship also contained pipes that carried steam throughout the ship. The pipes ran everywhere, including through quarters and eating areas, and were wrapped in asbestos insulation.
In addition to pipes and machinery, asbestos was used in fireproof safety gear and firefighting clothing, gloves used by gunners, gaskets, valves, packings, seals, spray-on insulation, flooring material, and many other areas of the ship.
Asbestos Exposure on the Wasp
Because of this heavy use of asbestos, which is documented, the USS Wasp caused exposure in many U.S. Navy veterans. Many later developed asbestos illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Men were exposed when the asbestos materials were damaged or worn down over time, and fibers of the minerals were released. They could be inhaled in the confined, poorly ventilated areas of the ship. Those at most significant risk worked with the boilers and turbines or conducted repairs and maintenance throughout the ship.
In some instances, even those men who did not work on maintenance or directly with asbestos materials were exposed and got sick later. As an example, a veteran who served on the Wasp was diagnosed with asbestosis. He claimed that he was exposed to asbestos when a bomb exploded on the ship. The resulting debris contained fibers of asbestos.
In another example, a veteran who served on the Wasp in the 1960s developed lung cancer. Yet another veteran developed interstitial fibrosis of the lungs, which was connected to his service aboard the Wasp.
U.S. Navy veterans who served on the USS Wasp and other ships that contained asbestos were put at serious risk of getting very sick later in life. These veterans have a right to seek support and medical care through the Veterans Administration but also to seek compensation from the manufacturers who made and supplied the asbestos materials for these ships.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.