The USS Charleston (AKA-113 / LKA-113) was first in her class of five amphibious cargo ships. She was the fifth ship in the history of the US Navy to bear the name in honor of the city of Charleston located in the state of South Carolina. The USS Charleston also bore the motto of this southern state -“Animus Opibusque Parati”—which translates as “Prepared in Mind and Resources.” In commission serving her country for just over 23 years, the USS Charleston was often referred to by her nicknames of “Chuckie” or “The Chuck.”
The USS Charleston was laid down on December 5, 1966 as an attack transport ship—AKA-113 - at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (Newport News, Virginia). Launched on December 2, 1967, she was commissioned just over a year later on the 14th of December 1968. Prior to entering into active duty, the USS Charleston was redesignated as an amphibious cargo ship - LKA-113 - on January 1, 1969.
Powered by one geared steam turbine working in conjunction with two boilers and one propeller, the 575-foot, 6-inch USS Charleston was capable of achieving speeds of approximately 20 knots. She displaced 18,465 tons (full load) and was equipped with a helicopter landing platform. Initially armed with four twin three-inch/50-caliber dual purpose gun mounts, later modifications to her weaponry included the addition of two Phalanx close-in-weapons-systems (CIWS). The USS Charleston employed a complement of 34 officers and 375 enlisted men with the added benefit of having the capacity to accommodate additional troops numbering in the area of 15 officers and 200 enlisted men.
The USS Charleston maintains historical significance as being the lead ship in the series of amphibious cargo ships—the first series of vessels in the history of the US Navy to be specifically designed to transport troops, along with their supplies and equipment, in sole support of amphibious attacks.
Early in her career, the USS Charleston conducted a series of operations in support of the Vietnam War. In particular, she was a key participant in the Vietnamese Counteroffensive-Phase VII from April 4th through 8th of 1971. Her service in this campaign earned her a Battle Star.
Operating out of Norfolk, Virginia for the extent of her career, the majority of Charleston’s time in service was dedicated to operations in the Mediterranean. Charleston was deployed to the Mediterranean on numerous occasions: July1972-January 1973, August 1977-January 1978, March-September 1986, and August 1988- February 1989.
Decommissioned on April 27, 1992, the USS Charleston was a well-decorated vessel as she made her departure from active duty. While in service, the following awards were bestowed upon her: a Joint Meritorious Unit Award, three Navy Battle “E” Ribbons, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, a Humanitarian Service Medal, and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
The USS Charleston is currently docked at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) where she remains in inactive reserve status at the ready to return to active duty should the need arise in light of a military emergency.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Charleston (AKA-113 / LKA-113)
Without question, almost all US Navy vessels constructed from the time spanning from the 1930s through the mid-1970s employed asbestos products in one form or another. Praised for its strength, flexibility, and resistance to heat and most chemicals, the naturally-occurring mineral asbestos was a product of choice in the assemblage of ships. More than 300 materials used by the shipbuilding industry contained asbestos.
Specifically designed to transport troops, amphibious cargo ships, such as the USS Charleston, served as sites of significant exposure to asbestos for humans. Not only were the crews of these ships at risk for exposure to the hazardous health effects of this substance which in later years would be more widely recognized as a human carcinogen, but the continuous cycle of Marine Corps troops being transported by these ships were also placed at risk.
Asbestos poses the greatest risk to human health and safety when its friable fibers are disturbed and become airborne—poised for inhalation and/or ingestion. This situation often occurs under two circumstances: deterioration due to age or disruption due to maintenance procedures. Once asbestos enters the human body, it sets the stage for a lengthy and irreversible course of respiratory illness that almost always results in a fatal outcome for its victims.
If you served aboard or were transported by a ship such as the USS Charleston, there were numerous sources of asbestos exposure including pipe coverings, adhesives, insulation materials, cables, gaskets, and valves, to name just a few on board. A careful watch over your health for any signs indicative of respiratory illness should be your top priority. Asbestos-related illnesses—asbestosis, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, and the most rare but serious—mesothelioma—claim the lives of as many as 10,000 individuals in the United States each year. While there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, an early diagnosis can allow for the most optimal course of treatment coupled with the greatest life span and highest level of quality of life.
Asbestos-related illnesses possess extended latency periods ranging anywhere from 20-50 years. As a result, the time span from the time of exposure to the onset of illness can be significant. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact us to request an information packet for a detailed listing of the numerous medical and legal support systems currently in place for victims of asbestos exposure.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Charleston (LKA-113/AKA-113)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive