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USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654)

USS George C. Marshall was the only vessel of the US Navy’s fleet to be named in honor of George Catlett Marshall (1880-1959)—American soldier, General of the Army (1944), US Secretary of State (1947-1949), US Secretary of Defense (1950-1951), and creator of the famous economic and military aid program known in history as the “Marshall Plan.” The ship’s motto, “Patience, Not Weakness,” embodied her strategic mission to travel the seas as a deterrent force against Soviet aggression in an effort to maintain peace and defend the freedom of the United States.


Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company located in Newport News, Virginia was awarded the contract to construct USS George C. Marshall on July 29, 1963. Her keel was laid down at this same location less than a year later on March 2, 1964. Sponsored by her namesake’s widow, Mrs. George C. Marshall, this seventh Benjamin Franklin class ballistic missile submarine was launched on May 21, 1965.

Upon USS George C. Marshall’s commissioning on April 29, 1966, her complement of two crews, comprised of 120 men each, was led by Commander Warran Rich Cobean (blue crew) and Commander Willard Edward Johnson (gold crew).

George C. Marshall’s specifications included a length of 425 feet, a surface displacement of 7,250 tons, and a submerged displacement of 8,250 tons. Powered by one propeller, two turbines, and a pressurized water nuclear reactor, she was able to reach speeds in excess of 20 knots and depths down to 1,300 feet. Her weapon capabilities consisted of four 21 inch torpedo tubes and 16 missile tubes.

Naval History

At the launching ceremony of the USS George C. Marshall, then US Secretary of State Dean Acheson described this submarine’s role as adding “a new factor, a new magnitude, to the correlation of forces by which the communists determine their decisions.” After 78 successful deterrent patrols and over 26 years of service to her country, it can be said that this vessel lived up to her expectations.

Over the course of her career, George C. Marshall’s deployments included voyages to the Panama Canal (1971), Holy Loch, Scotland (mid-1970s, 1992), the Mediterranean (1979), and Long Island Sound (1979).

With regard to overhauls, George C. Marshall underwent regular maintenance from September 1971 through February 1973. Eight years later, an extensive three-year overhaul (1981-1984) was conducted at Newport News Shipbuilding in which George C. Marshall’s SUBROC weaponry in conjunction with her Mark 14 torpedo and Mark 37 torpedo capabilities were removed. These modifications made way for the installation of a decoy capability referred to as a Mobile Submarine Simulator (MOSS).

One of the last vessels to depart from the base at Holy Loch, Scotland following its closing in 1992, George C. Marshall voyaged to San Diego, California where she carried out her last dive prior to arriving in Bremerton, Washington for decommissioning.

On September 24, 1992, USS George C. Marshall was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. She was scrapped by means of the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program and ceased to exist on February 28, 1994.

Asbestos Risk on the USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654)

Estimates show that between the years 1930 and 1978, the US shipbuilding industry employed over 4.5 million workers while at the same time utilizing approximately 25 million tons of asbestos—a mineral consisting of bundles of durable fibers that exist naturally in the environment and that possess excellent heat and fire resistant properties. Asbestos was so valued by the shipbuilding industry that the US Navy mandated its use in numerous products used in the construction and maintenance of its vessels. If only it was known at that time that this substance would eventually be the source of serious health problems for those who crossed its path. Or was it known?

Historical documents cite that the Navy’s Surgeon General was aware that long-term exposure to asbestos was the cause of lung ailments among shipyard personnel as early as the year 1939. Despite this knowledge, however, the Navy’s use of asbestos continued for nearly four more decades. How could the low cost and attractive properties of this hazardous resource be valued more than human health and safety?

As a result of extensive industrial use of asbestos in the past, approximately 10,000 deaths occur each year in the United States as a result of an asbestos-related disease, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos-related diseases have an extended latency period ranging anywhere from 15 to 50 years from time of first exposure. Thus, those exposed during their time of service aboard submarines such as the USS George C. Marshall may not display any symptoms of an asbestos-related ailment for years to come.

The shipbuilding industry has proven to be an environment conducive to exposing numerous individuals to asbestos (which today is classified as a cancer-causing agent) and its long-term health effects. Submarines—confined spaces with limited ventilation and abundant asbestos products (e.g., insulation, gaskets, pipes, valves, cables, adhesives) in both work areas and living quarters—continue to be a source of danger for veterans long after they have fulfilled their duties at sea.

If you believe you may be a victim of asbestos exposure, you should take action now. There are numerous resources available to you from a medical perspective as you explore the best options for your health and from a legal perspective as you explore your rights as a victim. Please review our website and request an information packet today.

View Sources


Wikipedia – USS George C. Marshall (SSBN-654)

NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive

Naval History and Heritage Command

National Cancer Institute

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog


August 26, 2016
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