The USS Lexington (CV-16) is an Essex-class aircraft carrier that served the United States Navy from the Second World War through Operation Desert Storm. With a career that spanned 48 years, she was the longest-serving vessel of her class, and has been preserved as a museum ship at Corpus Christi, Texas. The "Lady Lex" was commissioned in February 1943 under the command of Captain Felix Stump.
Like their destroyer counterparts, the highly successful Fletcher class, Essex-type carriers were the most numerous of their kind, and were the mainstay of the US Navy through the Vietnam era. Lexington’s keel was laid in July 1941 at the Bethlehem Steel Company's Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. Originally, she was to have been named Cabot; however, after the first USS Lexington (CV-2) was lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the name was changed in tribute.
Lexington was one of the "long-hull" types of her class. When launched in September 1942, she was 872 feet in length with a beam of over 147 at flight deck level and displaced just under 36,400 tons. Her four steam turbines were Westinghouse products.
With a crew compliment of 2,600 officers and seamen, Lexington could carry up to 110 prop-driven aircraft as built.
Interestingly, Lexington was the only carrier that was not painted in camouflage. Instead, she was painted a dark blue – a tactic that, like Manfred von Richtofen's famous red Fokker triplane of the previous war, was intended to demoralize the enemy. In fact, she was reported sunk by Japanese intelligence several times, but always showed up again – earning the nickname "Blue Ghost."
Repairs and Upgrades
Lexington's first yard period was the standard post-shakedown availability during which any mechanical issues are addressed and final adjustments made prior to maiden deployment.
From December 1943 until the end of February 1944, Lexington was in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington undergoing repairs for battle damage. During the last two months of 1944, Lexington was laid up at the Ulithi Naval Base for repairs to her island.
At the end of February 1945, Lexington was ordered back to Bremerton for maintenance and routine repairs. The work continued until the middle of May.
After five years in mothballs, Lexington underwent modernization at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Between September 1953 and mid-August 1955, she was given an angled flight deck and other upgrades, enabling her to handle jet aircraft.
She returned to Bremerton in early 1960 for routine repairs and maintenance, remaining there throughout most of the year.
Lexington was used as the set for the 1975 feature film Midway, playing the role of USS Yorktown (CV-5). Twelve years later, she appeared in the TV mini-series War and Remembrance, cast in the role of the Yorktown-class USS Enterprise (CV-6). She portrayed an unnamed Japanese carrier in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor. For all three productions, the carrier underwent cosmetic alterations to resemble the older vessels.
Lexington first arrived in the Pacific War zone in October 1943. Over the next two years, her crew took part in nearly every major action of the "island-hopping" campaign, including the Gilberts, Kwajalein, Marianas, Guam and Leyte Gulf. Twice during the war she sustained heavy damage as the result of enemy attacks. After the war, she remained off Japan as part of occupation and mopping-up duties before returning to the States in December. After several months of routine operations off the West Coast, she was decommissioned in 1947.
Lexington returned to duty in 1955 after undergoing modernization. For the next several years, her overseas deployments were in the Far East with the 7th Fleet.
After the Cuban Missile crisis of October 1962 (her last combat mission), Lexington was designated a training carrier until decommissioned in November 1991. The following June, the US Navy donated the vessel to the public. Restoration is ongoing as of this writing; attempts are being made to refit her as she was during the Second World War, using salvaged components from scrapped vessels.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Lexington (CV-16)
There were a number of incidents aboard the Lexington that might have resulted in asbestos becoming friable. The first time the vessel was damaged was during a raid on Kwajalein atoll in the Marshalls Island Group in December of 1943 when a torpedo stuck her starboard side, taking out her steering gear and breaching the hull.
During the Battle of Leyte Gulf in late October 1944, Lexington was the target of a kamikaze suicide pilot; the attack destroyed most of the island structure where the bridge and most command functions are located. In late October 1989, a novice aviator lost control of his aircraft during a training flight, resulting in twenty casualties and causing minor damage to the island as well as a number of deck fires.
The installation of asbestos insulation in the design of naval vessels was required by law in the United States in the 1930s, after a fire at sea on the SS Morro Castle killed more than 100 people. While all of the service branches made use of asbestos in various types of bases and installations, exposure was much more pervasive aboard ship, and thus studies find a larger number of navy mesothelioma victims than in other service branches. Ships like Lexington used asbestos insulation heavily, especially in boilers and engineering rooms, as well as to insulate pipes throughout the vessel.
If an asbestos-based product is worn or damaged it becomes "friable", which means that the fibers can be broken off and escape into the surrounding air, where they can be breathed in by ship's crew or dockworkers, increasing the odds of developing mesothelioma. Asbestos has long been known for its fireproofing properties, but it has also been proven to be the main factor in the development of life-threatening diseases like asbestos cancer and mesothelioma.
Tragically, a mesothelioma prognosis is generally not optimistic; generally mesothelioma disease sufferers have a life expectancy of a few months to a few years once they receive a diagnosis. Even with modern medical help, the survival rate of mesothelioma sufferers is very low - but approaches such as chemotherapy for mesothelioma offer some hope and can lengthen survival time. If you or a family member has developed malignant mesothelioma, there are legal options that may be available to you. A mesothelioma lawyer can help assess your options and determine a course of action.
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Friedman, Norman. U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983)
Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).