The USS Belleau Wood was the second ship in US Navy history to be named in honor of the four-week long World War I battle in which US Marines defeated German forces in the year 1918. A Tarawa-class general purpose amphibious assault ship, the USS Belleau Wood was the third of five ships to be constructed in this series of vessels that functioned as a combination of four types of earlier ships: amphibious assault ships (LPHs), amphibious transport docks (LPDs), amphibious cargo ships (LKAs), and dock landing ships (LSDs). In commission for just over 27 years, the USS Belleau Wood was often referred to by her nickname of “Devil Dog”—a name given to US Marines by the Germans during World War I.
Ordered by the US Navy on November 15, 1969, the USS Belleau Wood was constructed by Ingalls Shipbuilding located in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Her keel was laid down at that site on March 5, 1973. Launched on April 11, 1977, Belleau Wood was later commissioned on September 23, 1978 at which time Captain T. C. Steele took command of her crew of 930 officers and sailors.
Equipped to transport 2,000 Marines in addition to their equipment, the 820 foot USS Belleau Wood displaced 40,000 tons and achieved speeds of up to 24 knots. Capable of carrying a combination of 30 helicopters and Harrier attack planes, Belleau Wood was armed with two 21 cell rolling airframe missile (RAM) launchers, two Phalanx close-in-weapons-systems (CIWS), four 25 mm MK 38 Bushmaster gun mounts, and five .50 caliber mounts.
Homeported in San Diego, California at the onset of her career, the USS Belleau Wood partook in her first operation off the coast of Hawaii in 1979. That same year, she entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard (Long Beach, California) where she underwent an engine overhaul that lasted for one year.
January 1981 marked Belleau Wood’s departure on her first deployment—a series of three exercises and eight port visits. During this deployment she earned her first Humanitarian Service Medal for rescuing 150 Vietnamese refugees.
A second deployment consisting of four amphibious exercises ensued in August of 1982 with a third deployment occupying Belleau Wood’s time from January through July of 1984.
Upon completion of an 11-month overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton, Washington), the USS Belleau Wood set sail in January of 1987 on her fourth deployment which included a visit to the Aleutian Islands and earned her the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award for Aviation Safety.
The Western Pacific was Belleau Wood’s destination for five months in 1989 where she served as a participant in two exercises: Exercise Team Spirit 89 in Korea and Exercise Valiant Usher in Korea and the Philippines.
Subsequent to a major overhaul at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard that commenced in 1990 and included upgrades to her weapons systems, the USS Belleau Wood transited to a new homeport of Sasebo, Japan on August 31, 1992. En route to Japan from San Diego, Belleau Wood earned a second Humanitarian Service Award for assisting the people of Kauai, Hawaii in the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki.
Operating out of Sasebo, Japan, Belleau Wood served as a unit of Amphibious Group 1 and Amphibious Squadron 11. Throughout the duration of the 1990s, Belleau Wood was a participant in numerous joint military exercises in Australia, Korea, Thailand, and Guam. In addition, she operated as the Command Platform for Operation United Shield (a successful multinational military operation aimed at evacuating United Nations’ Forces from Somalia) from January through March of 1995, served in the Persian Gulf, and joined a peacekeeping taskforce in East Timor from October 5th through the 28th of 1999.
Following a crew swap with the USS Essex (LHD-2), the USS Belleau Wood departed Japan and returned to San Diego in mid-August of 2000. Upon her return, she entered an overhaul and maintenance period.
The remainder of Belleau Wood’s career consisted of operations in the Arabian Gulf, a six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and a series of missions in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
The first Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship to be decommissioned, the USS Belleau Wood officially ended her time in service during a ceremony held on October 28, 2005. On July 13, 2006, the ex-Belleau Wood was sunk off of the coast of Hawaii as part of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) ’06—a biennial international exercise focusing on maritime warfare.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3)
Asbestos-related diseases—mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer—have risen to the forefront as serious public health issues in our country today. With current mortality statistics indicating that nearly 10,000 deaths occur per year in the United States—each of which can be directly linked to past exposure to asbestos—it is time to explore the impact of past and present use of this deadly toxin.
Throughout the majority of the 20th century, in particular from the 1920s through the 1980s, asbestos was easily attainable and well-suited to meet the needs of protecting sailors from the elements of high temperatures and fires within the confines of warships. For these reasons, the US Navy not only embraced the use of asbestos in the construction and maintenance of her vessels, she mandated the use of this naturally-occurring mineral.
More than 300 asbestos-containing products surrounded Navy veterans who once served aboard ships such as the USS Belleau Wood. These Navy veterans were subjected to inhaling and/or ingesting the friable fibers released into the atmosphere when asbestos products were disturbed by human interference or when they decomposed as a result of a natural aging process. Once inside humans, asbestos fibers pose their greatest danger as they initiate a lengthy process of disrupting the inner workings of the human body. Easily becoming embedded in heart, lung, and abdominal tissue, asbestos fibers eventually produce inflammation and infection, and in some instances, the gradual evolution of cancerous cells.
Currently, mortality trends with regard to asbestos-related diseases indicate that we can anticipate seeing deaths caused by asbestos exposure to peak by the year 2020. Furthermore, these mortality trends indicate that even if asbestos use were to be completely eliminated as of today, we would continue to see deaths attributed to its use for another 50 years due to the extended latency periods prevalent with these illnesses. In short, as long as asbestos use is condoned there is virtually no end in sight to the harmful and devastating health effects it causes.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact us today to request a free information packet. It contains valuable information about medical treatment options and your legal rights as a victim of asbestos exposure.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive