The only U.S. Navy ship named after the 19th century statesman and orator from Kentucky, the USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625) was a Lafayette-class ballistic missile submarine built in the early 1960s. She served the Navy until 1990 under the motto, “Preservation of the Nation.”
Construction of the USS Henry Clay was authorized on February 3, 1961; eight months later, on October 23, 1961, her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on November 30, 1962, sponsored by Mrs. Green B. Gibson, and she was commissioned on February 20, 1964. Commander Thomas A. Bryce led the Blue Crew and Commander John C. Lewis led the Gold Crew.
The Henry Clay was initially outfitted with Polaris A-2 missiles but, like most Lafayette-class submarines, her weaponry was upgraded to the Poseidon C3 in the mid-1970s when new technology became the standard. She was a large submarine, measuring 425 feet in length and displacing 8,380 tons submerged. Her two crews – the Blue and the Gold, each comprised of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men – alternated shifts aboard the ship.
The USS Henry Clay started her career off the coast of Florida in February 1964, where she conducted shakedown and fired her first Polaris test missiles. She then reported to her assigned home port of Charleston, South Carolina, and in August 1964, she departed on her first deterrent patrol. In 1967, with nearly a dozen deterrent patrols completed, the Henry Clay was assigned to Submarine Squadron 14.
The Henry Clay received a significant honor in 1987, when her Gold Crew underwent an Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination, also known as the ORSE. She received a grade of “excellent,” making her only the second submarine in the United States Atlantic Fleet – after the attack submarine USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709) – to receive that exemplary grade on an unannounced ORSE.
Nearing the end of her career, the USS Henry Clay was decommissioned on November 5, 1990, and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. She was scrapped at Bremerton, Washington’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, ceasing to exist on September 30, 1997.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625)
Each year, approximately 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of cancer known as mesothelioma. Often, these individuals were put at risk of mesothelioma and other diseases because of exposure to a naturally occurring mineral called asbestos, a substance widely used in a variety of products and industrial applications throughout much of the 20th century.
With asbestos present in everything from house paint to theatre curtains to cigarettes, countless people were exposed to the substance during its heyday. However, people in some occupations faced far higher rates of exposure than others because of the large quantities of asbestos used in their professions.
Sailors and shipyard workers, for example, were heavily affected by asbestos used aboard submarines and other Navy vessels. Starting in the 1920s, asbestos – a natural fireproofer – was used in submarines’ insulation, adhesives, fabrics, and in the inner workings of pumps and boilers. When these asbestos products were cut or broken, or when they aged and began to deteriorate, they released a toxic asbestos dust that could cause permanent damage to the health of anyone who breathed it.
Unfortunately, thousands of U.S. Navy veterans are today paying the price for the military’s use of asbestos. Many individuals who have been affected, though, may not even know it yet; that’s because it can take decades – as long as 40 or 50 years, in some cases – for symptoms of mesothelioma to appear in the body. When they do appear, early symptoms often include fatigue, chest pain and difficulty breathing.
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause for mesothelioma. There is no cure, but catching the disease early can make treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, much more effective.Sources
USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625) website
Wikipedia – USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625)
Wikipedia – Lafayette-class submarines