Francis Marion (1732-1795)—a South Carolina native who served as a military officer in the American Revolution and who is credited as being one of the founding fathers of modern guerilla warfare—served as the namesake for the USS Francis Marion. This US Navy vessel, in commission for over 18 years, was also known as the “Swamp Fox”—the same nickname once bestowed upon the man whom she honored by name.
The USS Francis Marion was originally constructed by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation (Camden, New Jersey) as SS Prairie Mariner. Sponsored by Mrs. C. A. Wolverton, this vessel was launched on February 13, 1954. The Prairie Mariner was operated by the Maritime Administration from the time of her delivery on May 25th until her entrance into the National Defense Reserve Fleet on January 6, 1955.
Upon the acquisition of the SS Prairie Mariner by the US Navy on March 16, 1959, the Bethlehem Steel Company (Baltimore, Maryland) took charge of her conversion as she was renamed and reclassified as the USS Francis Marion (APA-249)—a Paul Revere-class attack transport vessel. The new USS Francis Marion was commissioned on July 6, 1961 at which time Captain David S. Bill, Jr. assumed command of her complement of 414 men.
Powered by two Babcock and Wilcox boilers, one geared turbine, and a single propeller, the 563 foot, six-inch Francis Marion displaced 16,828 tons and reached speeds of up to 20 knots. She was armed with four twin mount, three-inch, 50-caliber guns.
The USS Francis Marion was homeported in Norfolk, Virginia at the onset of her career. As a member of the US Atlantic Fleet she conducted numerous deployments to the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, and the Caribbean throughout the years ranging from 1961 to 1968. Her most notable missions included her participation in the Cuban Missile Crisis as part of the US Navy’s blockade of Cuba (October-November of 1962) and her service as the second-line recovery ship in support of the Apollo 8 lunar mission (December 1968).
January 1, 1969 marked Francis Marion’s redesignation as an Amphibious Transport—LPA-249. In this capacity she performed amphibious exercises, mainly in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, through the year 1975.
November 1975 brought about yet another change in the operating function of Francis Marion as she was called upon to become a Naval Reserve Ship. After undergoing a major overhaul in Baltimore in 1976, she went on to perform a series of special operations until the year 1979 at which time she was deemed to be an unnecessary vessel by the US Navy.
Decommissioned on September 14, 1979, the USS Francis Marion was later struck from the Naval Vessel Register on January 1, 1980. She was sold to Spain on July 11, 1980 where she operated under the name Aragón (L-22) until her decommissioning in 2000.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Francis Marion (APA-249)
The US shipbuilding industry is a prime example of how the industrial application of mass amounts of asbestos severely impacted the health and well-being of numerous individuals. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, asbestos was proven by means of scientific methods to be the most effective and cost-efficient insulating material with regard to providing superior resistance to fire and high temperatures. As a result, the US Navy not only sanctioned the use of asbestos, she mandated its use in over 300 products utilized in the construction and maintenance of her ships. Historical estimates cite that during the time span of the Cold War, the industrial use of asbestos in the United States peaked at 1,589 million pounds. The US shipbuilding industry was well-known to be a primary consumer of this naturally-occurring mineral.
The extensive use of asbestos aboard vessels such as the USS Francis Marion, in particular from the 1920s through the 1980s, has led us to where we are today in terms of the lasting effects of what we now know to be a carcinogenic substance: witness to nearly 10,000 deaths per year that have been directly linked to past exposure to asbestos.
Lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and gastrointestinal cancer—these are the diseases that have been medically proven to result from the inhalation and/or ingestion of asbestos fibers. Asbestos poses its greatest risk to humans when its particles become airborne and are released into the surrounding environment. This often occurs as either a result of human interaction when products containing asbestos are repaired or demolished or as a natural occurrence as asbestos products age and begin to break down. Once inside the human body, asbestos fibers immediately attach to the inner linings (membranes) of the heart, lungs, and abdomen. As time progresses, these fibers give way to scarring, inflammation, and in some individuals, the mutation of once-healthy cells into cancerous cells.
An important fact to consider with regard to asbestos is that even short-term exposure can lead to the development of mesothelioma—a fatal disease with no cure currently available. Scientific cases have cited a diagnosis of mesothelioma in individuals who have reported as little as three-months of asbestos exposure.
A common characteristic of asbestos-related diseases is an extended latency period. Simply put, symptoms indicative of a pending asbestos-related illness may not present in an individual for up to as many as 20 to 50 years. If you believe your service aboard the USS Francis Marion (or a similar US Navy vessel) or your employment in the US shipbuilding industry has placed you in contact with asbestos and you have been diagnosed with meothelioma, please fill out the form on this page to request a free information packet.Sources
Wikipedia–USS Francis Marion (APA-249)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive