The USS Casmir Pulaski was one of the “41 For Freedom”—a series of U.S. Navy Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs) named for historical male figures who were recognized as proponents of freedom in America’s quest for independence. Named in honor of Count Casimir Pulaski (1748-1779), a Polish noble who served as a military commander in the American Revolution, the USS Pulaski was crafted by fitters and shipbuilders of Polish-American descent and holds the record for the fastest built warship in U.S. Navy history with a time period of 18 months from design to launch. The submarines motto “Per Tridentem Libertas”—peace through seapower—embodied its mission which was to function as a vessel of deterrence against the threat of nuclear war as it performed continuous patrols in the world’s oceans for 30 years.
Equipped with 16 missile tubes and four torpedo tubes, the USS Pulaski employed a crew numbering 150 of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force’s top level men divided into two crews, Blue and Gold, as was commonplace with SSBNs. The Pulaski was ordered on July 20, 1961 and was laid down on January 12, 1963 by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut. Mrs. John Grounouski, the Postmaster General's wife, christened the vessel for her launch on February 1, 1964 and she was commissioned shortly thereafter on August 14, 1964. Capable of speeds in excess of 20 knots, the Pulaski measured 425 feet in length and displaced 7,250 tons (surfaced) and 8,250 tons (submerged).
In commission from 1964-1994, the USS Pulaski was the 12th Lafayette Class ballistic missile submarine—the third class to comprise the “41 For Freedom”. Built according to high standards of craftsmanship, the Pulaski was recognized for its quality among other ships in its class and earned a reputation as one of the most reliable SSBNs in the Navy.
Outfitted with 16 Polaris A-3 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), Pulaski’s first patrol was initiated from Rota, Spain in March of 1965. She would conduct an additional 20 patrols prior to returning to Groton, Connecticut for an overhaul which included refueling and a weapons upgrade to Poseidon C-3 missiles. At the time, Pulaski was only one of five submarines to be equipped with Poseidon SLBMs.
October 1971 marked the return of Pulaski to the fleet and resumption of patrols, most of which were based out of Holy Loch, Scotland.
After having completed a total of 52 patrols by early 1980, the Pulaski was sent to Newport News, Virginia for a period of three years for another weapons conversion and refueling. At this time, Trident 1 C-4 SLBMs were installed. Upon completion of the overhaul, Pulaski moved on to King’s Bay, Georgia in June 1983.
Several operational tests and exercises were conducted over the course of the remainder of the decade. These included:
- Follow On Operational Test (June 1985): Four Trident SLBMs were successfully fired in an approved testing range in the Atlantic
- Concept of Operation Exercise (LANTCOOPEX 1-89) (May 1989): The first of its kind not held at an SSBN refit port, but rather at a remote site, this exercise consisted of both crews completely resupplying the ship, performing major maintenance and repairs, and conducting a torpedo reload all within a 54-hour time period and while under continual simulated attacks performed by special forces. The successful completion of this drill further supported the reputation that Pulaski and her crews had become famous for: reliability and efficiency.
The summer of 1989 was momentous for the Pulaski as she joined an elite group of SSBNs when she crossed the Equator, followed by a celebration in August of the 25th anniversary of her commissioning in Charleston, South Carolina.
Pulaski was decommissioned on March 7, 1994. After 30 years of service dedicated to a series of strategic patrols aimed at maintaining a balance of peace, Pulaski was completely disposed of by October 21, 1994 via the submarine recycling program located at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)
Widely used by the navy in the construction of ships, the naturally occurring mineral asbestos was inevitably a component of submarines such as the USS Pulaski that were crafted between the 1930s and 1970s. Recognized for its heat resistance and durability, asbestos was most often used aboard ships as an insulation material that also served as a preventive measure against fires which often occurred aboard vessels.
Widespread use of asbestos in the past has resulted in numerous cases of asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, in the present day. An extended latency period, running anywhere from 15 to 50 years post initial exposure, is the reason that many people often don’t realize they are victims of this hazardous material until it is too late to treat the symptoms that have presented.
Conducting patrols over extended periods of time within the confined space of a submarine that is submerged below ocean level placed crew members at an increased risk for asbestos exposure and thus, at an increased risk of the life-threatening conditions such exposure causes. In addition, the established arrangement of alternating Blue and Gold crews of SSBNs, such as Pulaski, significantly increased the number of individuals who came into contact with crew members and their articles of clothing. This, in turn, significantly increased the number of people placed at risk for secondhand exposure.
Those involved in the construction, maintenance, and demolition of the Pulaski are also at an increased risk of the hazardous health conditions that are a consequence of asbestos exposure. Working within the enclosed spaces of the submarine under circumstances that often required the disturbance of asbestos fibers placed these workers in an environment highly conducive to inhalation of asbestos fibers, an environment believed to be one of the most dangerous in terms of contracting an asbestos-related disease. The duration of exposure determines the amount of fibers that enter the lungs, and fibers that enter and become embedded within the tissue over time are those that will result in serious lung diseases.
It is nothing short of a tragedy that those navy veterans who spent their lives serving our country may now be at risk for a disease that will most definitely shorten their life span. If you believe that you may have experienced asbestos exposure as a result of serving on or working aboard the USS Pulaski, it is to your best advantage to seek the advice of a physician specializing in diseases of the lung to gauge your risk and employ an appropriate course of medical care if necessary.Sources