In commission for just over 25 years, the USS Guardfish was the 10th submarine of the Thresher/Permit class to be constructed. Named after the ravenous green and silver fish, Guardfish was the second ship of the US Navy to take on this name. She bore the motto “Vigilate in Pace et Bello”—“Vigilant in Peace and Beauty”—as she served in defense of the United States.
On June 9, 1960, the contract to construct USS Guardfish was awarded to New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey. Her keel was laid down at this site less than a year later on February 28, 1961. Mrs. Kenneth E. BeLieu—the wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy—served as Guardfish’s sponsor at her launching ceremony on May 15, 1965.
Commander Gulmer A. Hines, Jr. led Guardfish’s crew of 99 officers and enlisted men upon her commissioning on December 20, 1966. This vessel, measuring 278 feet, 5 inches in length, was capable of speeds in excess of 28 knots (submerged) and operated at depths down to 400 feet. She displaced 3,540 tons while surfaced in comparison to 4,200 tons when submerged. Her defense systems included four 21 inch torpedo tubes for MK48 torpedoes, SUBROC and Harpoon missiles, in addition to the ability to lay MK 57 deep water mines and MK 60 CAPTOR mines.
Having completed a series of shakedown exercises following her commissioning, Guardfish joined Submarine Squadron Seven (Pacific Fleet) and traveled to her homeport of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Throughout the remainder of the year 1967, Guardfish carried out operations in the waters of the Pacific where she logged over 40,000 miles at sea during her first year.
January of 1968 marked Guardfish’s first deployment to the Western Pacific which lasted for a period of six months. Upon her return, she entered the shipyard at Ingalls Nuclear Shipbuilding Division in Pascagoula, Mississippi for an overhaul.
With her overhaul complete by November of 1970, Guardfish rejoined the Pacific Fleet—Submarine Squadron Seven—where she conducted a variety of operations in the Pacific Ocean. She was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for her participation in these maneuvers.
USS Guardfish had 612 dives to her credit by August 14, 1974. At this time, she entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to undergo a regular overhaul in preparation for another deployment to the Western Pacific. Upon her return from this mission, she was reassigned to a new homeport of Vallejo, California.
Guardfish underwent a refueling overhaul at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in August of 1975. Resuming normal operations by July of 1977, Guardfish joined Submarine Squadron Three based out of San Diego, California. After yet another six-month deployment to the Western Pacific, Guardfish returned to the United States in January of 1979. Operations performed by Guardfish in a subsequent Western Pacific deployment in 1980 earned her a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
A regular overhaul was performed on Guardfish at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California from September 1983 through August of 1985. Following this overhaul, Guardfish participated in three Western Pacific deployments (1986-1990), the first of which earned her a third Navy Unit Commendation.
As her career came to a close, Guardfish carried out a final deployment, this time to the Northern Pacific. In June of 1991, she was assigned to a new homeport—Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington—where she entered inactivation availability the following month.
Simultaneously decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on February 4, 1992, Guardfish ceased to exist as of July 9th of that same year after having been processed through the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program located at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Guardfish (SSN-612)
Shipyards were a primary site of asbestos exposure for many individuals in the United States, particularly for the nearly six decades between the years 1930 to just before 1980. Historical estimates show that as many as 4.5 million people were employed in US shipyards between the years 1930 and 1978. In addition to sailors, workers from a variety of trades—machinists, carpenters, insulators, boiler mechanics, painters—directly handled asbestos or worked in close proximity to products composed of this hazardous substance.
The naturally-occurring mineral asbestos was not only praised by the US Navy for its accessibility, relatively low-cost, and superlative resistance to heat and fire, its use was officially mandated by the Navy in over 300 materials utilized in the construction and maintenance of her ships. With products ranging from insulation materials to gaskets, valves, pipe coverings, paints, and adhesives, there was literally no section of a ship where asbestos was not present.
As time progressed, the impact of exposure to asbestos on the health of individuals began to surface. With an extended latency period spanning anywhere from 15 to 50 years, those employed in the shipbuilding industry did not begin to exhibit symptoms indicative of asbestos-related illnesses until many years after the initial exposure took place. These diseases, ranging from asbestosis (scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue) to pleural plaques (scarring that gives way to changes in the membranes surrounding the lungs) to mesothelioma (a rare but serious form of cancer that attacks the linings of the lungs, heart, and abdomen), are now health conditions that are all too prevalent among those who dedicated their lives to the service of our country as sailors or shipyard workers. Current statistics show that nearly 10,000 deaths per year in the United States alone can be attributed to an asbestos-related disease.
If you served aboard a vessel such as the USS Guardfish, or were employed as a shipyard worker, the likelihood that you were exposed to asbestos at some point in your career is great. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact us for an information packet to obtain further details on asbestos-related diseases, support systems currently in place for victims of asbestos exposure, and your legal rights.Sources
Wikipedia– USS Guardfish (SSN-612)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive