The USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641) was the only vessel in the United States Navy to bear the name honoring Simón Bolívar (1783-1830)—the revolutionary soldier notorious for leading independence movements in South America on behalf of the former Spanish colonies. The second of twelve ships comprising the Benjamin Franklin class of Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs), Simon Bolivar (in addition to those in her class) was similar in nature to ships of the Lafayette class of SSBNs with the exception of a quieter machinery design. In commission for thirty years (1965-1995), Simon Bolivar bore the motto “Without Fear, Without Reproach.”
Awarded on November 1, 1962, USS Simon Bolivar’s keel was laid down by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Newport News, Virginia on April 17, 1963. Sponsored by Mrs. Thomas C. Mann, Simon Bolivar was launched on August 22, 1964 and later commissioned on October 29, 1965. Armed with 16 missile tubes and four 21 inch torpedo tubes, Simon Bolivar measured 425 feet in length, and when submerged, displaced 8,250 tons and reached speeds in excess of 20 knots. With a complement of 14 officers and 126 enlisted, the two alternating crews were led by Commander Charles H. Griffiths (Blue Crew) and Commander Charles A. Orem (Gold Crew).
Shortly after her commissioning, Simon Bolivar conducted shakedown training from late December 1965 through January of 1966. Further shakedown operations continued in the Caribbean throughout the remainder of February.
In March of 1966, Simon Bolivar’s homeport was changed to Charleston, South Carolina where she became a unit of Submarine Squadron (SubRon) 18 and initiated her Polaris deterrent patrols. By January of 1967, Simon Bolivar completed three deterrent tours of duty. She would continue patrols of this nature through the first few weeks of 1971.
On February 7, 1971, Simon Bolivar returned to the birthplace of her construction—Newport News, Virginia—for an overhaul and weapons upgrade to replace her Polaris missiles with the latest adaptation—Poseidon. Fifteen months later, on May 12, 1972, and with her weapons conversion completed, Simon Bolivar departed Newport News for post-overhaul shakedown training operations through the 16th of September. By the end of this year, Simon Bolivar resumed her deterrent patrols from Rota, Spain as a member of SubRon 16.
By October 1974, Simon Bolivar was once again homeported in Charleston (operating under SubRon 18). She was the recipient of the Battle Effectiveness Award (Battle “E”) for 1974 and was recognized as the most outstanding SSBN in the Atlantic Fleet as the recipient of the Providence Plantation Award.
Subsequent years, 1975 and 1976, would witness Simon Bolivar receiving the Battle “E” award for a second and third time.
Following her 40th deterrent patrol, Simon Bolivar voyaged to Kittery, Maine where she entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in February of 1979 for yet another overhaul and weapons upgrade. With the installation of Trident C-4 ballistic missiles completed, Simon Bolivar returned to her homeport of Charleston by January of 1981.
Prior to being decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register in February of 1995, Simon Bolivar conducted additional deterrent patrols, was awarded an additional Battle “E” award in 1982, and conducted a successful launch of a Trident test missile in 1983. Simon Bolivar was disposed of by the end of 1995 by means of the Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard located in Bremerton, Washington.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641)
It would seem likely that once a U.S. Navy veteran resigned from active duty that he/she would be in the clear of any impending battles. The harsh reality is that many Navy veterans who served aboard vessels such as the USS Simon Bolivar are facing one of the toughest battles of their lives—a crusade to preserve their health and protect themselves from the devastating effects of a vicious enemy. In this case, the enemy is asbestos—a naturally-occurring mineral once held in high-regard for industrial use because of its low cost, accessibility, and heat resistant properties.
Beginning in the 1930s and continuing well into the mid-1970s, the Navy advocated and authorized the use of asbestos in more than 300 materials involved in the construction, maintenance, and daily operations of ships. These materials included, but were not limited to, insulation, valves, gaskets, cables, and adhesives. Utilized in every section of every ship, from work areas to living quarters, navy veterans were literally surrounded by this toxic substance.
With an established link between the amount of asbestos exposure and the probability of developing an asbestos-related illness, navy veterans are considered to be in a high-risk group for the development of mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer. Not only were these veterans exposed to large quantities of asbestos, but they suffered this exposure within confined areas, often with inadequate ventilation. Under such conditions, when asbestos fibers were disturbed and released, they were likely inhaled. Once inhaled, particles of asbestos easily find their way to the inner linings of the lungs, abdomen, and heart.
If your time of service in the US Navy brought you aboard the USS Simon Bolivar or a similar vessel, or if you were employed in a shipyard, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the probable risk factors for asbestos exposure and what symptoms you should look out for that may be likely warning signs of a mesothelioma diagnosis. If you are among those unfortunate individuals already waging a battle against mesothelioma, it is important that you are fully aware of the resources available to you as a veteran with regard to treatment centers and medical and legal support.
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
Wikipedia – USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641)
Naval History and Heritage Command