The fourth of five Charleston-class amphibious cargo ships to be constructed, the USS St. Louis was the sixth US Navy vessel to be named after the state of Missouri’s second largest city. In commission for 22 years, the USS St. Louis bore the motto “St. Lou Can Do.”
Ordered by the US Navy as an attack transport ship—AKA-116—on June 11, 1965, the USS St. Louis was laid down by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (Newport News, Virginia) on April 3, 1968. Just three days prior to her launch on January 4, 1969, St. Louis was redesignated as an amphibious cargo ship (LKA-116). The Honorable Leonor K. Sullivan—a 3rd District of Missouri Representative—served as St. Louis’s sponsor. Upon her commissioning on November 22, 1969, the USS St. Louis employed a complement of approximately 22 officers and 334 enlisted men initially led by Captain John W. Klinefelter.
Measuring 575 feet, 6 inches in length, the USS St. Louis was powered by two boilers, one geared steam turbine, and one propeller shaft. She was capable of achieving speeds in excess of 20 knots and displaced 18,465 tons (full load). Her defense system consisted of four twin three-inch/50-caliber guns with later upgrades including the addition of two Phalanx close-in-weapons-systems (CIWS). Capable of accommodating aircraft with a helicopter platform located on her stern, the St. Louis was also equipped with as many as 18 boats—landing craft mechanized or landing craft mechanicals (LCM)—to support the transportation of troops and equipment to shore during amphibious assaults.
Homeported in Long Beach, California, the USS St. Louis joined Amphibious Squadron 11 at the onset of her career. In August of 1970, St. Louis arrived off of the South Central Coast of Vietnam near Danang—a major port city. Here she was responsible for disembarking Marine troops along with their equipment in support of an amphibious assault—the task for which her class of ships was specifically designed to carry out.
After a brief return to Long Beach, St. Louis returned to Danang Harbor in October where she took part in an operation which involved the redeployment of over 2,000 troops and 22,000 tons of equipment. Upon completion of this mission, St. Louis journeyed to Subic Bay in the Philippines where she completed a series of amphibious landing exercises that endured through December.
During the early months of 1971, St. Louis spent a total of two months transporting Marines and cargo between Vietnam and Okinawa, Japan. By the end of March, she was again back in Long Beach for a period of upkeep and local operations. June 24th marked yet another return by St. Louis to Danang Harbor. Upon completion of her duties, she set sail for Long Beach and remained on the US West Coast through the end of March of 1972.
The USS St. Louis set sail on March 31st for the coast of South Vietnam where she was responsible for transporting US Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams (US Navy SEALs) and South Vietnamese Marines during the military campaign known as the Easter Offensive. St. Louis remained stationed in the Western Pacific for a period of seven months where she continually transported troops and equipment to and from various military bases. With her involvement in the Vietnam War complete, St. Louis returned to the west coast of the United States on November 11, 1972.
The next major military operation in which the USS St. Louis was involved was Operation Eagle Claw—the attempt to rescue 53 Americans that were being held hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Stationed just 20 miles outside of Tehran, the USS St. Louis stood at the ready to deploy Special Force Marines and Mike 8 Boats. Unfortunately, this operation proved to be a failure and resulted in the deaths of eight members of the US military—five Airmen and three Marines.
The USS St. Louis underwent an overhaul at the Naval Base San Diego prior to being reassigned to a new homeport of Sasebo, Japan. Operating from this location, she served in support of humanitarian missions for the duration of her career.
St. Louis was decommissioned on November 2, 1992 at which time she was placed in inactive reserve and housed at the Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Asbestos Risk on the USS St. Louis (AKA-116/LKA-116)
US Navy ships, such as the USS St. Louis, are noted for being sites of asbestos exposure. The asbestos products housed within the confines of these ships are considered to be responsible for the development of several types of asbestos-related diseases in US service men and women. In total, these diseases—mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer among them—account for nearly 10,000 deaths per year in the United States.
Sourced from nature, abundant in supply, relatively low in cost, and incomparable in terms of heat- and chemical-resistance—these are the specific attributes that supported the US Navy’s decision to not only employ asbestos as a key industrial component on her ships, but to actually mandate the use of this naturally-occurring mineral in more than 300 products utilized in the construction and maintenance of her fleet.
The widespread use of asbestos aboard US Navy ships, particularly from the 1930s through the 1970s, resulted in the creation of a contaminated airspace for all crewmembers. Asbestos has been proven to pose the greatest risk to human health when it becomes airborne. This often occurs when asbestos materials are disturbed during maintenance or demolition procedures or when they decompose over time as a result of a natural aging process. Once inhaled and/or ingested into the human body, durable asbestos fibers attach to the inner linings of the heart, lungs, and abdomen where they possess the ability to remain for great lengths of time wreaking havoc by laying the groundwork for one of several debilitating diseases.
Asbestos-related illnesses are known for having extended latency periods ranging anywhere from 20 to 50 years. As a result, the onset of symptoms indicative of illness often do not present until many years after the initial exposure took place.
If you believe that you are victim of asbestos exposure and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact us to request a detailed information packet. It is designed to educate mesothelioma victims and their families about the medical and legal support resources that are currently available as they seek treatment options and possible compensation for their sustained injury.Sources
Wikipedia–USS St. Louis (LKA-116/AKA-116)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive