The USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631) was the third U.S. Navy ship to be named after the 18th president of the United States and Civil War general by the same name, who lived from 1822 to 1885. The James Madison-class, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine served the Navy for three decades during the Cold War. Today, her bell remains at the Puget Sound submarine base in Bremerton, Washington, for use in retirement ceremonies.
The Groton, Connecticut-based Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation was awarded the contract to built the Ulysses S. Grant on July 20, 1961; her keel was laid down there the following year on August 18, 1962. She was launched on November 2, 1963, sponsored by Mrs. David W. Griffiths, the great-granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant himself. The submarine was commissioned on July 17, 1964 with Captain J.L. From in command of the Blue Crew; Commander C.A.K. McDonald took command of the Gold Crew two months later.
At her commissioning ceremony, Rear Admiral Vernon Lowrance, Deputy Commander of the Atlantic Submarine Force, quoted President Abraham Lincoln speaking about the USS Grant’s namesake. “He is the quietest fellow you ever saw … the only evidence that he is in any place is that he makes things go. Wherever he is, they move,” Lowrance said. “This is an apt description of a vital ingredient of our Polaris Force.”
The Ulysses S. Grant was the 42nd nuclear-powered submarine and the 22nd Polaris-capable vessel to be commissioned. She was powered by a S5W nuclear reactor and was equipped with an armament of 16 ballistic missile tubes and four torpedo tubes. She was manned by two crews, each containing 120 men that alternated duty every three months.
Following commissioning, the first course of action for a submarine is its shakedown exercises; the Ulysses S. Grant’s took place off the eastern coast of the United States in 1964. Its first Polaris A-3 missiles were fired that September: September 5 for the Blue Crew and September 21 for the Gold Crew.
With these preliminary exercises behind her, the Ulysses S. Grant departed from Groton, Connecticut in December 1964 for work in the Pacific Ocean. She passed through the Panama Canal on New Year’s Eve and arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in January 1965. Shortly thereafter, she transited to Guam, a United States territory in the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Using Guam as her base, the Grant conducted 18 deterrent patrols before returning to the mainland United States in 1969.
In 1966, the Gold Crew of the USS Grant was presented with a personal derringer that had belonged to General Grant; the heirloom is believed to have been carried by the general throughout the Civil War. The pistol remained aboard ship throughout its career.
In 1969, the Grant reported to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington, where she received an overhaul and necessary conversions to enable her to carry Poseidon ballistic missiles. In 1970, she was deployed to Holy Loch, Scotland, and ended up remaining in service in Europe until September 1975.
In 1976, upon completion of her 42nd patrol, the Ulysses S. Grant entered Newport News Shipyard for an extensive overhaul. After three years of work, the vessel was released to the Gold Crew, and picked up her deterrent duties. The submarine had another overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine in 1984 – this time for a refueling of her nuclear reactor. She was then turned over to her Blue Crew, which embarked on a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation. After firing a test missile in July 1987, the Grant was turned over to the Gold Crew, who completed the second half of the operation but fired no missiles. In 1989, the submarine traveled to Holy Loch, Scotland, where she remained on deterrent patrols for the rest of her career.
The Ulysses S. Grant was decommissioned on June 12, 1992 and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. The submarine was eventually scrapped, ceasing to exist on October 23, 1993 – except for her brass bell, which remains in storage at Puget Sound.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631)
Long considered a vital component in the field of shipbuilding, asbestos was used in the construction of all U.S. Navy submarines from the 1920s to the 1970s. From pipe covering to insulation used on boiler parts to fireproof fabrics, there was hardly an area of the ship that did not contain a product made from the substance.
There were many benefits to using asbestos. The naturally occurring mineral was highly effective at making products fireproof, it was strong and durable, and it was relatively inexpensive. But today, we know asbestos’ negatives far outweigh its positives; exposure to the mineral – especially prolonged exposure, as often occurred in a home or workplace – can cause serious diseases, including an aggressive type of cancer known as mesothelioma. The mineral is most dangerous when it is airborne, which occurs when products containing asbestos – such as insulation – are torn or cut, releasing tiny asbestos fibers into the environment.
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause for mesothelioma, and diagnoses are still fairly rare. Experts estimate that roughly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease every year. Sadly, veterans and shipyard workers, as a group, have been hit quite hard by mesothelioma. Their risk was compounded by the fact that they worked in very close quarters with minimal ventilation, so airborne asbestos was virtually impossible to escape.
If you served aboard the USS Ulysses S. Grant or another Navy submarine between the 1920s and the 1970s, you could be at risk for an asbestos-related disease. Please fill out the form on this page to receive more information.
NavSource – USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631)
USS Ulysses S. Grant website
Wikipedia – USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631)