The battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Gulf Wars. The many men and women aboard the USS Wisconsin served their country, but they were put at risk in return. Asbestos on the ship exposed service members and led to a diagnosis of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other respiratory conditions in some veterans.
About the USS Wisconsin
The USS Wisconsin was ordered in 1940 and built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard between 1941 and 1943. She launched in December of 1943 and was commissioned in 1944.
The USS Wisconsin was 887 feet long, could travel at 35 miles per hour, and displaced 52,000 tons when loaded with equipment, fuel, and men. The full complement of officers and men carried by the Wisconsin numbered 1,921.
The Wisconsin was heavily armored to protect her and also heavily armed with numerous guns and missiles. She was powered by General Electric steam turbines and eight large boilers. The rooms that housed these offered some of the greatest risk for asbestos exposure on board.
Construction, Repairs, and Upgrades
The Wisconsin was laid down in Philadelphia on January 25, 1941, and was completed and launched on December 7, 1943. She was designed and built to be a fast battleship by the Bureau of Construction and Repair.
Over decades of service, she was decommissioned and recommissioned a few times. Before decommissioning, she received upgrades to technology, armaments, and other components. One of her most significant upgrades occurred before reactivation in the 1980s. This included more modern weapons and improved armor.
She underwent several cycles of repair and upgrades, beginning in the middle of service in World War II. She received other repairs and maintenance post-World War II, during the Korean War, and a major upgrade and repair session was undertaken in 1957, after the Korean War.
Repair and maintenance of a ship like the Wisconsin, built with asbestos, represented a serious exposure risk for workers. Workers had to handle the materials that contained asbestos, which put them at serious risk for later illnesses.
Service and Deployment History
The USS Wisconsin was built for World War II and saw her first service in that conflict. After shakedown and training in the Chesapeake Bay and the Caribbean, she set sail for the Pacific in late 1944. She missed much of the heated action around the Philippines but engaged in actions to prepare for future offensive attacks.
Soon after arriving in the Pacific theater, though, the Wisconsin and other fleet members suffered significant losses in Typhoon Cobra. While some ships sank and lost hundreds of lives, the Wisconsin only saw two injured crew members and no fatalities.
Throughout the remainder of the war, the Wisconsin provided escort services, supported airstrikes, and participated in offensive maneuvers, including the landing at Iwo Jima and the bombardment of Japan. She then took part in the occupation of Japan after the surrender.
The Wisconsin helped ferry men home from the war, then participated in training before being deactivated at Norfolk in 1948.
She was reactivated for the Korean War. She relieved the USS New Jersey in late 1951 and participated in the war effort by providing support for South Korean and U.N. troops and shelling and bombarding strategic North Korean sites on shore. She also supported numerous airstrikes and was inactivated again after the war.
In 1986 the Wisconsin was reactivated as a part of a push by President Reagan to expand the U.S. Naval fleet. In the early 1990s, she was deployed to the Persian Gulf to support Operation Desert Shield and then Operation Desert Storm.
She was decommissioned shortly after in 1991. The Wisconsin and the USS Iowa were both struck from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day: March 17, 2006. They were officially the last battleships to be a part of a Navy anywhere in the world.
Asbestos on the USS Wisconsin
The USS Wisconsin was built to protect the naval fleet, but unfortunately, one way she was made caused harm to the men who served on her. Asbestos was used heavily throughout her construction, providing material for insulation and fireproofing.
The heaviest use was in the engine and boiler rooms, insulating those heat-generating machines and in insulation covering the pipes that ran all over the ship.
Asbestos was not limited to these high-heat ship components, though. It was also used in deck matting, gaskets, valves, flooring material, as spray-on fireproofing and insulation, and in the safety gear worn by the men who fought fires and those who fired the weapons on the ship. The asbestos protected them from heat and prevented the spread of fire throughout the ship.
Anyone who served on the Wisconsin had some level of risk of being exposed to asbestos. Anyone exposed was then at risk of later developing severe illnesses, including mesothelioma.
Asbestos exposure occurs when the tiny fibers that make up the mineral break free and enter the air or settle on surfaces. On ships, the exposure risk is high because of the large amounts of asbestos and because the lack of ventilation makes it more likely the fibers will be inhaled.
Most at risk on the Wisconsin were the workers in the boilers and engine rooms, those who repaired insulation and other asbestos-containing materials, and workers in the shipyards that constructed and repaired her.
Claims made to the Veterans Administration document how men on board were exposed. In one claim, a veteran who served on the Wisconsin developed asbestosis later. He served in the late 1950s and reported exposure to asbestos around the pipes in the ship and in the gloves he used to change hot shells while manning the guns.
Men like these served their country and made great sacrifices, only to find later that their heroic service made them very sick. The asbestos used on the Wisconsin did not make everyone sick, but those unlucky few who did develop asbestos illnesses have suffered and died because of it.
If you served on a ship in the Navy, you were likely to have been put at risk of asbestos exposure. With a diagnosis of a related illness, you can make a claim to the Veterans Administration to seek medical care and adequate compensation for your pain and suffering. Let a qualified advocate help you through the process so you can get what you deserve.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.