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USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2)

First in her class of seven ships, the USS Iwo Jima was the first ever amphibious assault ship to be designed and constructed from the keel up. Named after the Pacific battle launched on February 19, 1945 during which the United States Marine Corps seized control of the island of Iwo Jima after over a month of fighting and the loss of 7,000 American lives and over 20,000 Japanese lives, this vessel was the second of three ships of the US Navy’s fleet to bear the name and the first to see active service since the first was cancelled in the midst of construction. While her primary function was to transport Marine forces along with their equipment and supplies, she also participated in search and rescue missions, provided refueling of ships on an as-needed basis, and served as a vehicle for transporting and relocating civilians from hostile territories. In commission for nearly 32 years, the USS Iwo Jima bore the motto “Do It Right the First Time.”

Construction

The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton, Washington) laid down the keel of the USS Iwo Jima on April 2, 1959. Mrs. Harry Schmidt—wife of the Commanding General of the Fifth Amphibious Corps during the battle of Iwo Jima—served as the sponsor at the USS Iwo Jima’s launch on September 17, 1960. Upon her commissioning on August 26, 1961, Captain T. D. Harris took command of the ship’s complement of 667 men.

The 592 foot Iwo Jima displaced 18,474 tons (full) and was capable of reaching speeds of up to 22 knots. She was powered by two 600 psi (pounds per square inch pressure) boilers in conjunction with one geared steam turbine and one shaft. Originally armed with four three-inch, 50-caliber, AA guns, two of these were later removed to accommodate eight cell Sea Sparrow basic point defense missile system (BPDMS) launchers and two radar-guided Gatling guns mounted on swiveling bases (Phalanx CIWS).

Naval History

Operating out of San Diego, California at the onset of her career, the USS Iwo Jima carried out amphibious exercises off of the California coast upon completion of her shakedown training in 1961.

Joining Joint Task Force 8 in April of 1962, Iwo Jima participated in a four-month-long series of nuclear tests in the region of Johnston Island-Hawaii. Her main role during this testing period was to evacuate personnel from Johnston Island as each test was performed and return them to the island at the conclusion of each test. After completing this assignment, Iwo Jima returned to San Diego on August 10th.

While en route to the Western Pacific for her first deployment in October of 1962, Iwo Jima was ordered to return home to San Diego to join a 21 ship squadron that would journey to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal in support of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Iwo Jima spent six weeks in the waters south of Puerto Rico on “standby” duty before returning to San Diego on December 13th.

Subsequent to a period of amphibious training and exercises conducted out of her homeport throughout the first half of 1963, Iwo Jima embarked on her previously delayed Western Pacific deployment on August 30th. This would be the first of six deployments to this region for the USS Iwo Jima where she served in support of operations in Southeast Asian waters during the conflict in Vietnam. Through May of 1971, Iwo Jima was a participant in over 30 amphibious landings in Vietnam, provided helicopter support ashore, conducted defense perimeter patrols, and carried out search-and-destroy raids.

May of 1972 marked a transition period for the USS Iwo Jima as she departed the United States West Coast destined for a new homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. Shortly after her arrival in Virginia, she was underway on her first Mediterranean deployment which endured through January of 1973. Later that same year, the USS Iwo Jima was distinguished as the most improved ship in the US Atlantic Fleet when she was awarded the Arleigh Burke Trophy.

As her career progressed, the USS Iwo Jima went on to carry out twelve Mediterranean deployments, one Northern European deployment, and numerous amphibious exercises from the years 1973 through 1992. In 1982, she was a second-time recipient of the esteemed Arleigh Burke Trophy for the Atlantic Fleet.

A tragedy fell upon the USS Iwo Jima on October 30, 1990 while deployed in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Shield. The mechanical failure of a steam turbine valve in the boiler room flooded the area with steam from two boilers which resulted in the demise of ten crewmembers. Despite this loss, the Iwo Jima was repaired and returned to active duty in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Decommissioned on July 14, 1993 and later struck from the Naval Vessel Register on September 24th of that same year, the USS Iwo Jima’s career came to an end as she was ultimately sold for scrap to Mystic Shipping and Trading Company. Her island structure lives on as a display at The Museum of the American GI located in College Station, Texas.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2)

Amphibious warships, such as the USS Iwo Jima, not only employed large crews, but they were responsible for the transport of troops, civilians, and casualties. In short, these ships placed numerous individuals in direct contact with the naturally-occurring mineral asbestos and in turn, with the perils associated with exposure to this harmful substance.

Asbestos was utilized to a great extent by the shipbuilding industry for its unparalleled heat- and fire-resistant properties. Its accessibility and relatively low-cost also contributed to its widespread use in the construction and maintenance of vessels. Gaskets, valves, pipe coverings, paints, and adhesives are just a few of the multitude of products aboard ships in which asbestos was a component.

Asbestos, a fibrous mineral, poses its greatest threat when it is either disturbed by means of maintenance or demolition procedures or when it deteriorates naturally due to age. At these instances, its friable fibers become airborne and create an environment where inhalation or ingestion of these fibers by individuals in close proximity is inevitable.

Once asbestos fibers enter the human body, they quickly attach themselves to the membranes of the heart, lungs, and abdomen. Over time, these fibers give way to the development of scarring, inflammation, infection, and in some cases, cell mutation. When this occurs, individuals will begin to present with symptoms—chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing—that often come to be identified as indicators of the presence of an illness that can be directly attributed to past exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal cancer. These diseases, in combination, are currently responsible for nearly 10,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.

Several government agencies now classify asbestos as a known human carcinogen—cancer-causing agent. This classification has significantly limited asbestos use in the United States, however, surprisingly, has not resulted in an official ban. Current estimates indicate that 1.5 million pounds of asbestos is circulated every year by means of products sold in the United States.

There are numerous resources including medical and legal that are available to assist victims afflicted with asbestos diseases like mesothelioma. Please contact us for an information packet that can put you in touch with these resources aimed at supporting your health and exploring your options with regard to monetary compensation that may be available to you.

Sources
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

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