The USS Wright (CVL-49) was a Saipan-class "light" carrier serving the United States Navy serving from the post-World War II period through Vietnam. She was commissioned in February 1947 under command of Captain Frank Ward.
This is one of the two of the Saipan- class carriers that were built (the lead ship of the class, Saipan, being the other), and represented an improvement on the previous Independence- class. Unlike the Independence-type carriers, Wright and Saipan were constructed from the keel up as aircraft carriers, with a heavier hull, a larger arsenal and a stronger flight deck.
Wright was just under 685 feet in length with a beam of 115 feet at flight deck level and displacement of 19,000 tons under a full load. Originally designed to carry 42 aircraft, Wright ultimately maintained an air wing with 50 planes, and had a crew compliment of over 1700 officers and seamen.
Wright was constructed at the New York Shipbuilding Corporations yard at Camden, New Jersey between August 1944 and September 1945. Outfitting and commissioning were carried out at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1946 and early 1947.
Repairs and Upgrades
Wright returned to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard at the beginning of November 1947 following her shakedown cruise, where she spent six weeks undergoing final repairs and adjustments.
She underwent repairs and maintenance at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the spring and summer of 1951 and additional repairs at the Boston Naval Shipyard later that year. From the end of July until mid-November 1953, Wright underwent another overhaul at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Wright entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in California following her first Far East deployment at the end of October 1954, remaining there until the last week of February 1955.
After several years in reserve status at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, Wright was reclassified as a command ship – essentially, a mobile marine command post. This involved major conversion work, involving the installation of electronic communication and computer equipment. The conversion lasted from mid-March 1962 until May 1963.
Wright was then posted to NOB Norfolk, where the vessel received regular, periodic maintenance and repairs during her last years.
Wright was finally commissioned after World War II had been over for a year and a half. Her first few years in the water were spent operating off the southeastern coast of the US and in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico as a training vessel, qualifying new carrier pilots. In 1949, her crew began undergoing anti-submarine warfare training.
Wright made her first overseas deployment to the Mediterranean in January 1951. Upon her return, the vessel resumed her local training schedule, also participating in fleet exercises and joint maneuvers with the naval forces of other NATO members in the Atlantic.
In 1954, Wright was shifted to the Pacific with the 7th Fleet. After spending the summer and early fall operating out of Yokosuka, Japan, Wright returned to Long Beach, California. After participation in an atomic test, Operation Wigwam, in 1955, Wright entered the Mare Island facility for deactivation and was subsequently mothballed in Bremerton, Washington for the next several years.
When she returned to duty in 1963, Wright had been transformed into a floating command center. After a few months of West Coast operations, the vessel returned to Norfolk, her home port for the remainder of her career. During these final years, she was the National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA), carrying out various duties along the Atlantic coast from Maine to South America.
Wright was decommissioned in May of 1970 and laid up at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard until sold to a shipbreaker for scrap over ten years later.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Wright (CVL-49)
Asbestos exposure aboard Wright was typical of what seamen normally experience; the vessel was not involved in any unusual accidents or other incidents that would have caused asbestos materials to become extraordinarily friable, however. The installation of asbestos-containing materials in the design of naval ships was mandated by law in the United States in the 1930s, after a fire at sea aboard a cruise ship killed 137 people. Wright used asbestos in large amounts in boilers and engineering rooms, and in fireproofing in the other sections of the vessel.
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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).