A Charleston-class amphibious cargo ship, the USS Durham was the second vessel of five to be constructed in this series. Named after the city of Durham, North Carolina and sometimes referred to by her nickname of the “Lonely Bull,” LKA-114 served her country for nearly 25 years. Upon her departure from active duty status, Durham had acquired a total of 15 awards for outstanding service.
The keel of the USS Durham was laid down as an attack transport ship—AKA-114—on July 10, 1967 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (Newport News, Virginia). Mrs. Alton A. Lennon, wife of the North Carolina representative who served from 1957 to 1973, performed the duties associated with the role of sponsor at Durham’s launching ceremony held on March 29, 1968. Redesignated as an amphibious cargo ship (LKA-114) on January 1, 1969, the USS Durham was commissioned into service nearly five months later on May 24, 1969.
The 575-foot, 6-inch USS Durham displaced 18,322 tons (full load) and was capable of speeds in excess of 20 knots. Initially armed with four twin three-inch/50-caliber guns, later upgrades to her defense mechanisms included the addition of two Phalanx close-in-weapons-systems (CIWS). With regard to aircraft capabilities, the USS Durham was equipped with a helicopter landing platform on her stern. As many as 18 landing craft mechanized or landing craft mechanicals (LCM) were on board at one time as a means of transporting troops and tanks ashore during amphibious assaults. Durham’s complement of 22 officers and 334 enlisted men were often joined by an additional 15 officers and 200+ enlisted men from the US Marine Corps.
Similar to the lead ship of her class, the USS Charleston, the USS Durham was an active participant in the Vietnam War. A series of extensive operations culminated with her support of Operation Frequent Wind—the evacuation of more than 7,000 Americans and Vietnamese from Saigon, South Vietnam during the final days of the War (April 29-30, 1975). The USS Durham earned a total of three campaign stars for her service during this conflict.
Deployments to the Western Pacific—five in total—occupied Durham’s time through the end of the year 1987. Entered into the Naval Reserve Force for a brief time in the early 1980s, the USS Durham was quickly returned to active duty in response to a need for supplementary sealift capacity.
Durham went on to serve in the Gulf War beginning in January of 1991. She transited to the North Arabian Sea where she joined a task force comprised of 18 amphibious vessels—the largest force of this kind to be assembled since the Korean War.
February 25, 1994 marked the decommissioning of the USS Durham. Since this point in time, she has been stationed at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility (NISMF) located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where she remains in inactive reserve status unless the need should arise for her to be recommissioned in the face of an urgent military situation.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Durham (AKA-114/LKA-114)
Difficulty breathing, chest pain, and coughing—these are all symptoms indicative of asbestos-related illnesses. US Navy ships and shipyards have been identified over the years to be primary sites of asbestos exposure for numerous navy veterans and shipyard workers.
The heat-, fire-, and chemical-resistant properties of the naturally-occurring mineral asbestos, coupled with its relatively low-cost and abundant supply, made it the product of choice for the US Navy who mandated its use in more than 300 materials employed in the construction and maintenance of her fleet from the 1930s through the mid-1970s. While this product safeguarded the inhabitants of ships from the dangers of fire, it also created a contaminated airspace within the confines of these vessels. The strength and durability of asbestos that was key to its use in an industrial capacity was detrimental to human health and safety as its resistant fibers proved to be unable to be dissolved in water, evaporated into air, or decomposed over time. Therefore, as materials that contained asbestos were disrupted during maintenance periods or as they broke down as a result of age, asbestos fibers and particles became released into the surrounding environment where they entered human bodies by means of inhalation and/or ingestion. Once inside the human body, asbestos fibers laid the groundwork for the development of one of several respiratory illnesses.
Insulation materials, adhesives, gaskets, paints, valves, cables, and pipe coverings are just a few of the materials aboard US Navy vessels that contained asbestos and that were eventually acknowledged for being responsible for the epidemic of asbestos-related diseases that we are all too familiar with in the present day. Current mortality trends cite that as many as 10,000 deaths occur each year from diseases directly linked to asbestos exposure.
As US Navy ships, such as the USS Durham, remain on reserve status, the potential remains not only for the return of these vessels to active duty, but for the return to society of what we now know to be active sites of asbestos exposure. Although asbestos use has been considerably restricted in recent years, we have yet to see an all-out ban of this human carcinogen in our country. As long as asbestos continues to be utilized and as long as former sites of exposure continue to remain in place, we will continue to see an upward trend in mortality rates attributed to diseases associated with this toxic substance.
Asbestos-related illnesses are the root of much pain and suffering for victims and their families. Please contact us for an information packet that can provide you with the most up-to-date listing of resources aimed at connecting victims and their families to the vast network of medical and legal support systems that are currently available.Sources