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USS California (CGN-36)

The USS California—the fourth US Navy nuclear-powered cruiser to be constructed—was the seventh ship of the US Navy’s fleet to be named in honor of the state of California. In commission for over 25 years, USS California was also known by her nickname of “The Golden Grizzly.” The USS California was the lead ship of her class—the California class—which consisted of only herself and her sister ship, the USS South Carolina. These two California-class vessels were succeeded by the four nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers that comprised the Virginia class.

Construction

The keel of the USS California was laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, located in Newport News, Virginia, on January 23, 1970. First Lady of the United States Pat Nixon, serving as the sponsor of the USS California, christened the vessel at the launching ceremony on September 22, 1971. Originally commissioned as a guided-missile frigate (DLGN) on February 16, 1974, USS California was later reclassified as a guided-missile cruiser on June 30, 1975, at which time she was assigned the hull classification symbol CGN-36.

Once commissioned, the USS California and her complement of 40 officers and 544 enlisted men were led by Captain Floyd H. Miller, Jr. The 596 foot California cruiser was capable of displacing 10,643 tons and reaching speeds in excess of 30 knots. Both designed and equipped to undertake any threat—whether it be in the air above, on the ocean’s surface, or underwater in the depths of the sea—the USS California’s armament included two MK-141 missile launchers, two MK-13 missile launchers, one ASROC missile launcher, two five-inch MK-45 guns, two radar-guided Gatling guns mounted on swiveling bases (20mm Phalanx CIWS), in addition to a wide array of anti-submarine warfare equipment.

Naval History

Based out of Norfolk, Virginia at the onset of her career, USS California served as a unit of the Atlantic fleet conducting her first cruise to the Mediterranean from July 1976 through February 1977. A few months later, as a representative of the US Navy, the USS California crossed the Atlantic Ocean to partake in ceremonies in Portsmouth, England honoring the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

In the midst of a routine Mediterranean deployment in 1979, California was called to action in the North Arabian Sea off the southern coast of Iran. This call of duty was in response to the seizure of the US Embassy in Iran and required the USS California to remain stationed in the Indian Ocean for five months before returning to her homeport in Norfolk in May of 1980.

A second Indian Ocean cruise ensued for California the following year—1981. The route taken by California on her return trip home to Norfolk—through the Panama Canal—earned her the recognition of having circumnavigated the globe. California became the first nuclear-powered cruise ship to complete this task since the USS Enterprise in 1964.

September of 1983 marked a transition period for USS California as she was reassigned to a new homeport—Naval Air Station, Alameda, California. Departing from this location, USS California initiated a Western Pacific and Indian Ocean cruise in February of 1985.

During the following spring, 1986, USS California visited Adak, Alaska. This visit, which took place after a series of operations in the Bering Sea over the course of several weeks, was the first of its kind for a cruiser since World War II. This “first” was followed by a “second” for California as she was once again credited with journeying “around-the-world” upon the completion of a Western Pacific cruise in 1987.

The year 1988 brought about a third cruise to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean for USS California. This cruise was followed by operations in the North Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf and patrol duties in the Strait of Hormuz. The decade came to a close for California with Northern Pacific operations in the summer of 1989 followed by participation in PACEX 89—the largest sailing exercise of the US Navy and its allies since World War II.

The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, located in Bremerton, Washington, was the site of a complex overhaul for USS California in April of 1990. This three-year maintenance period, which lasted through January of 1993, resulted in expenditures totaling approximately $425 million.

Following a period of post-overhaul evaluations and sea trials, USS California was deployed for the first time in five years. This deployment to the Western Pacific, in conjunction with the USS Kittyhawk battle group, lasted from June through December of 1994.

A four-month maintenance availability was performed on California in 1995 with the aim of upgrading her weaponry and improving her propulsion plant. In September of that same year, California participated in a parade through Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in ceremonies commemorating the conclusion of World War II.

The USS California departed for the Western Pacific, Indian Oceans, and the Persian Gulf in May of 1996. Serving together with the USS Carl Vinson Battle Group, this deployment carried on for six months. The following spring—1997—California underwent a brief but intensive maintenance period, followed by a cycle of training exercises and evaluations, in an effort to maintain a peak level of performance for the duration of her career.

Serving as the Air Warfare Commander for the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF), USS California supported counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean Sea in January of 1998. This deployment was followed by her participation in RIMPAC 98 in July of that same year. RIMPAC 98—a naval exercise that was designed to develop the tactical capabilities of all participating vessels—would serve as the final act in USS California’s colorful tour of duty.

A decorated vessel—having earned four Meritorious Unit Commendations and numerous Battle Efficiency “Es” for outstanding combat preparedness—the USS California concluded her years in service with her deactivation on October 1, 1998. She was later simultaneously decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on July 9, 1999. After being processed through the US Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton, Washington), USS California ceased to exist upon completion of her scrapping on May 12, 2000.

Asbestos Risk on the USS California (CGN-36)

At the time the USS California was under construction, historical estimates show that the United States was using an average of 1,466 million pounds of asbestos for industrial use. A significant portion of this asbestos was consumed by the shipbuilding industry. The US Navy was so impressed with the superlative heat and fire resistant properties of asbestos, that it mandated its use in over 300 products utilized in the construction and maintenance of her ships.

US Navy nuclear-powered cruisers, such as the USS California, usually employed a crew averaging over 500 individuals who lived and worked within the confines of the ship for extended periods of time. Inhabiting a ship where asbestos products were found from the aft to the bow created an environment that was responsible for significant incidents of asbestos exposure.

Exposure to asbestos has been scientifically linked to a variety of illnesses—asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. A range of factors influence the acquisition of these diseases, including the composition and quantity of the asbestos fibers inhaled, the duration of time the exposure occurred, and the existence of preexisting ailments.

While it has yet to be completely banned, the use of asbestos has been limited to a great extent in recent years. Now classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), the dangers of asbestos to human health and safety are widely recognized. Nearly 10,000 deaths each year in the United States can be attributed to an asbestos-related disease. With an extended latency period for the development of these diseases ranging anywhere from 15 to 50 years, it is anticipated that we can expect to see these numbers rise in the years ahead.

Even with its use limited, asbestos continues to pose a threat in the myriad of instances where it still remains as a result of past use—from individual homes to buildings and products produced through industrial applications. In particular, numerous vessels that were constructed at the peak of asbestos use have yet to be demolished.

Asbestos exposure is serious with potentially life-threatening consequences. If you believe that you may be a victim of such exposure, please contact us for an information packet to learn more about mesothelioma and compensation that may be due to you from companies who failed to provide warnings against the dangers of asbestos.

Sources
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

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