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USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617)

USS Alexander Hamilton, a Lafayette-class fleet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), was the third ship of the US Navy to bear this name. Her namesake, Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and a key figure in the development of the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard.


The Electric Boat Division of the General Dynamics Corporation, located in Groton, Connecticut, laid the keel of the Alexander Hamilton on June 26, 1961. The great-great-great granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton, Mrs. Valentine Hollingsworth, Jr., sponsored the vessel at her launch on August 18, 1962. Upon her commissioning on the 27th of June 1963, two alternating crews (Blue and Gold)—consisting of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men each—were led by Norman B. Bessac (Blue Crew) and Commander Benjamin F. Sherman, Jr. (Gold Crew).

Equipped with 16 Polaris/Poseidon missile tubes and four 21 inch torpedo tubes, Alexander Hamilton measured 425 feet in length and reached speeds in excess of 20 knots. She had a displacement of 7,250 tons surfaced and 8,250 tons when submerged. One S5W pressurized nuclear reactor, two geared turbines, and one propeller powered the vessel.

Naval History

Immediately upon her commissioning through the 18th of October 1963, Alexander Hamilton embarked on two shakedown cruises—one for her Blue Crew and one for her Gold Crew. After post-shakedown availability, she departed to the East Coast of the United States on March 16, 1964 for deployment to her base of operations in Rota, Spain. As a member of Submarine Squadron 16, Alexander Hamilton carried out deterrent patrols through the end of 1964.

A new year, January 1965, brought a relocation in bases for Alexander Hamilton as she was transferred to Submarine Squadron 14 out of Holy Loch, Scotland. She remained at this location, conducting her patrols, through June of 1967 before returning to the United States.

Alexander Hamilton entered the Electric Boat shipyard in Connecticut on June 18, 1967 for her first overhaul and nuclear refueling which would last through June 28, 1968. Following a period of post-overhaul trials and shakedown training, she departed for Rota, Spain. Arriving on December 30, 1968, she would operate from this port for the next four years as a unit of Submarine Squadron 16.

With 31 deterrent patrols to her credit, Alexander Hamilton returned to the United States in January of 1973 for a second refueling overhaul coupled with a weapons conversion to Poseidon missiles at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia. Upon completion of this work over two years later, Alexander Hamilton conducted shakedown exercises in April of 1975 and dedicated the rest of that year to post-overhaul trials and training.

Over the next four years (1976-1980), Alexander Hamilton performed 16 deterrent patrols with visits to Holy Loch, Scotland, Port Canaveral, Florida, New London, Connecticut, and Charleston, South Carolina. She initiated her 47th deterrent patrol in Charleston and concluded that patrol on March 17, 1980 in Holy Loch. She would continue her patrols operating out of Holy Loch through 1986.

The year 1986 proved to be an eventful one for Alexander Hamilton. In accordance with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), plans were put in place to decommission this submarine. She entered the Groton shipyard to begin her preparations for deactivation when the unfortunate grounding of the USS Nathanael Greene (SSBN-636) resulted in a quick turn of events. The Navy was forced to abort Alexander Hamilton’s deactivation overhaul and instead ordered a maintenance overhaul in order to prepare the submarine for her return to active duty.

April 1986 marked Alexander Hamilton’s return to sea where she served as a training platform and was a participant in training cruises through the fall of 1986.

Alexander Hamilton journeyed to Bremerton, Washington via the Panama Canal where she arrived in November 1986 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a refueling overhaul. This overhaul, initiated on November 30, 1987, would continue through the fall of 1988.

In December of 1988, Alexander Hamilton joined Submarine Squadron 14 with whom she would complete strategic patrols 70 through 73.

As her career began to come to a close, Alexander Hamilton departed from Groton in early 1991 for port visits in the Caribbean and Florida. Later that year in June, she stopped in Charleston to offload missiles as she prepared for deployment to the Pacific for decommissioning.

Shortly after earning recognition as the SSBN with the most dives ever recorded (1,000) on April 28, 1992, USS Alexander Hamilton was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on February 23, 1993. After nearly 30 years in commission, Alexander Hamilton ceased to exist on February 28, 1994 after her recycling was completed by means of the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617)

In conjunction with steel, asbestos was one of the most widely used materials in the construction of vessels for the United States Navy. As early as 1922, the Navy specifically identified asbestos to be used in the construction of new ships. Asbestos was a component of products ranging from insulation and packing materials to gaskets, tapes, paints, adhesives, and patching compounds. This naturally occurring mineral, whose composition gave it superior heat and fire-resistant properties, was deemed a necessity by the Navy who officially mandated its use in its ocean vessels. Records indicate that asbestos was used in more than 300 materials involved in the construction and maintenance of US Navy ships, including submarines, and that in total, as much as 25 million tons of asbestos was utilized in the shipbuilding industry between the years 1930 and 1978. Taking these statistics into consideration in combination with the estimated 4.5 million workers employed by US shipyards during this same time period yields a significant level of asbestos exposure by sailors and construction workers, and in turn, a significant level of individuals at risk for the development of an asbestos-related illness.

The greatest level of risk of exposure to asbestos occurs when the mineral’s fibers are disturbed and released into the surrounding environment. In the shipbuilding industry, a great deal of sanding, cutting, and scraping occurred, both during the construction and maintenance of ships, resulting in high quantities of asbestos dust. Once inhaled, these fibers remain in the lung tissue of individuals for an extended period of time and eventually result in serious lung diseases that may include asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. These diseases are known for having latency periods ranging from 15-50 years, so the onset of symptoms may not occur until well after the initial exposure has taken place.

If you are a veteran or construction worker who may have come into contact with asbestos as a result of your service aboard a ship such as the USS Alexander Hamilton, you may be at risk for developing mesothelioma. While there is currently no known cure for mesothelioma, the earlier you seek an evaluation from a physician who specializes in diseases of the lungs, the greater your chances are for identifying the disease early enough so that the best course of treatment can be sought and the highest level quality of life can be achieved.



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