Bearing the motto “Pride Runs Deep,” the Sturgeon-class attack submarine USS Drum served her country for over 23 years. The second US Navy ship to bear the name, USS Drum (SSN-677) was named in honor of her predecessor—fleet submarine Drum (SS 228). The namesake of these vessels was any of a variety of fish hailing from the Sciaenidae family, specifically the drum fish, who are commonly found along the Atlantic coast of North America and known for the drumming sound they are capable of producing.
Mare Island Naval Shipyard, located in Vallejo, California, was awarded the contract to construct USS Drum on March 15, 1967. The 43rd and final submarine built at this shipyard, her keel was laid down on August 20, 1968. Launched on May 23, 1970 with Mrs. William F. Bringle (wife of US Navy Commander of Naval Air Forces-US Pacific Fleet) serving as her sponsor, Drum was commissioned nearly two years later on the 15th of April 1972.
Equipped with four 21 inch torpedo tubes in addition to MK48 Torpedoes, SUBROC and Harpoon missiles, and MK57 deep water mines and MK60 CAPTOR mines, Drum measured 292 feet, 3 inches in length and reached depths down to 1,300 feet. When submerged, she reached speeds of up to 25 knots and displaced 4,640 tons. Her complement of 109—14 officers and 95 enlisted men—was led by Commander James L. Willis.
Shortly after her commissioning, Drum arrived at her homeport of San Diego, California on May 22, 1972 following testing trials in Puget Sound. That same month, in order to become an operational unit of the Pacific fleet, Drum initiated six months of testing and fleet training in Puget Sound and in areas in the vicinity of Hawaii and San Diego. A one-month period of post shakedown availability followed at Mare Island Naval Shipyard during the month of November.
March 1973 marked the beginning of Drum’s first and longest (eight months) deployment to the Western Pacific. A second and third deployment to this region would follow in November of 1974 and again in June of 1976 with visits to the Philippines, Guam, Japan, and Hong Kong. Drum would earn her first Navy Unit Commendation and her first Meritorious Unit Commendation for her successful operations during these deployments, respectively.
The beginning of 1977 brought USS Drum a change in homeport to Bremerton, Washington accompanied by torpedo testing and a non-refueling overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Upon completion of the overhaul in April 1978, Drum carried out operations in Puget Sound before returning to San Diego in July of that same year.
While stationed in San Diego through April of 1979, Drum underwent a series of testing and training exercised in preparation for a fourth deployment to the Western Pacific in May of 1979. This mission, with stops in Hawaii, Thailand, Guam, and the Philippines, lasted for five months and earned Drum her second Meritorious Unit Commendation.
During the years 1980 through 1984, Drum embarked on further deployments to the Western Pacific in addition to conducting local operations in Southern California operating areas.
Drum continued to carry out local operations in Southern California throughout most of 1985 before entering the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington in October for a second and final overhaul. Upon completion of this overhaul in November of 1987, Drum became a member of Submarine Squadron Eleven.
Further local operations ensued for Drum well into 1988. A two-month span of independent operations later that year earned Drum her third Meritorious Unit Commendation.
May 1989 marked Drum’s tenth trip to the Western Pacific which earned her a second Navy Unit Commendation. She returned to San Diego in August where she participated in local operations for the remainder of the year.
Drum was awarded her fourth and fifth Meritorious Unit Commendations for operations carried out during Western Pacific deployments in September of 1990 and February of 1992. February 13, 1995 marked Drum’s departure for her 13th and final deployment to the Western Pacific. This deployment was completed two months later on April 13th with Drum’s return to San Diego.
Simultaneously decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on October 30, 1995, Drum entered drydock for the final time on May 20, 2010 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard where she began the process of being recycled. Her reactor compartment was properly buried in Hanford, Washington while her sail is currently displayed in Great Lakes, Illinois at the US Navy Recruit Training Command.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Drum (SSN-677)
Employed as an insulation material to safeguard against fires in high-heat producing environments within submarines (e.g., boiler and engine rooms), asbestos use was mandated by the US Navy. Other materials involved in shipbuilding also contained asbestos components—gaskets, cables, valves, and adhesives, to name a few. When these materials were disturbed due to construction or maintenance within the enclosed quarters of submarines, asbestos fibers became airborne and in turn, were inhaled and became embedded in the lung tissue of navy veterans and shipyard workers.
When navy veterans and shipyard workers retired from their years of service to their country, those who were exposed to asbestos likely left not only with fibers remaining in their lungs, but with an increased risk of developing a debilitating asbestos-related illness in the future. With a documented latency period ranging anywhere from 15-50 years, the progression of time will yield symptoms such as breathing difficulties. Over time, the fibers could eventually cause scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue and give way to one of a variety of diseases attributed to asbestos exposure: asbestosis, pleural plaques, or cancer in the form of lung cancer or mesothelioma.
While still considered a rare form of cancer with approximately 2,500 deaths per year in the United States, statistics show that mesothelioma mortality has risen at a steady pace from the time period of 1979 through 1998. This disease is a real and eminent threat to those who served or worked aboard submarines, such as the USS Drum, as many of those individuals have witnessed their comrades and co-workers fall victim to the fatal consequences of asbestos exposure.
If you believe you have been a victim of asbestos exposure, it is important to know that a wide array of services is available to support you as you seek a diagnosis and treatment options. In addition, you may be entitled to receive monetary compensation for your injury as the risks of this hazardous substance were not properly conveyed to you at the time of your exposure. Please request an information packet for further information on the network of support and resources available to you from both a medical and legal perspective.Sources