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USS Wasp (CV-18)

The USS Wasp was an aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy that served from World War II through the Vietnam War, finally being decommissioned and scrapped in the early 1970s. The CV-18 Wasp was the ninth ship in the navy to be named Wasp and was given that name to honor the CV-7 Wasp that sank in 1942. The USS Wasp served for nearly 30 years and earned eight battle stars during actions in the Pacific theater of World War II.

The ship and her crew were distinguished with battle stars for brave actions in the 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 was made using asbestos materials that caused dangerous exposure. Some U.S. Navy veterans got sick years later after decades of damage caused by the materials used on the USS Wasp.

About the USS Wasp

The keel for the USS Wasp (CV-18) was laid down in March 1942 at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was built by the Bethlehem Steel Company and was originally 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 commissioned under Captain A.F. Sprague on November 24, 1943.

The Wasp was a carrier in the Essex class, a class that included 24 ships total, 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 and were larger, able to carry more aircraft, and able to launch and deploy aircraft more efficiently with deck-edge elevators and a flight deck that was longer and wider.

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), served during the Vietnam War and was also instrumental in the NASA space program, recovering astronauts from five of the Gemini missions. The Wasp was decommissioned for the final time in 1972 and was shortly after sent to be scrapped.

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 ship was powered by Westinghouse steam turbines and Babcock and Wilcox boilers, all of which were made and delivered to the U.S. Navy containing asbestos for insulation and fireproofing.

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 was sent to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs and upgrades. She had been hit by bombs 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 there in 1944 and 1945. The aircraft she carried were involved in many important 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 the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic Ocean. She also participated in several good-will 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 1962 the Wasp deployed to the Caribbean to serve as part of the blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis. In the 1960s she also served in the space program, recovering Gemini astronauts from the ocean.

Asbestos Use on the USS Wasp

Like many other ships built for the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, 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 as 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 prevented from starting fires.

The ship also contained pipes that carried steam throughout the ship. The pipes ran everywhere, including through quarters and eating areas and these had to be wrapped in asbestos insulation to keep the heat inside the pipes. 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 many U.S. Navy veterans to be exposed to the harmful mineral and to later develop asbestos illnesses including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Men were exposed when the materials containing asbestos were damaged or wore down over time and fibers of the minerals were released and could be inhaled in the confined, poorly ventilated areas of the ship. Those at greatest 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.

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