The fifth Lafayette-class nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarine to be constructed—USS James Monroe—was named in honor of James Monroe (1758-1831), the fifth President of the United States. This was the only vessel of the US Navy’s fleet to honor this namesake. The ship’s motto, “Watchful Waiting,” reflected her mission of serving as a deterrent force—patrolling the waters with a watchful eye for any signs of Communist aggression.
The keel of the USS James Monroe was laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, located in Newport News, Virginia, on July 31, 1961—approximately five months after this shipbuilding facility was awarded the contract for her construction. Mrs. Roswell L. Gilpatric (wife of New York City corporate attorney and Deputy Secretary of Defense [1961-1964]) served as the submarine’s sponsor at her launch on August 4, 1962. Commissioned on December 7, 1963, USS James Monroe’s complement of two crews (Blue and Gold), each comprised of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men, were led by Commander William H. Sandford (Blue Crew) and Commander Warren R. Cobean, Jr. (Gold Crew).
Equipped with 16 missile tubes, USS James Monroe was armed with Polaris A-2 missiles from 1964-1969, A-3 Polaris missiles from 1969-1975, and Poseidon C-3 missiles for the duration of her career from 1977-1990. In addition, her armament included four 21 inch torpedo tubes capable of housing MK-48, MK-14/16, and MK-37 torpedoes along with MK-45 nuclear torpedoes. Measuring 425 feet in length, James Monroe displaced 8,250 tons (submerged), reached speeds in excess of 20 knots, and depths down to 1,300 feet.
Following a period of shakedown training off Cape Kennedy, Florida in conjunction with missile testing during the first few months of 1964, USS James Monroe embarked on her first deterrent patrol out of Charleston, South Carolina on June 1, 1964.
By January 17, 1967, James Monroe had 12 deterrent patrols to her credit. She carried out these patrols from naval bases in Holy Loch, Scotland (as a member of Submarine Squadron 14) and Rota, Spain (as a member of Submarine Squadron 16).
On January 9, 1968, James Monroe became the first submarine to be upgraded to Polaris A-3 missiles. Upon completion of this overhaul, she traveled to Pearl Harbor and Guam via the Panama Canal where she joined Submarine Squadron 15 to begin her second patrol cycle on March 3, 1970.
A Meritorious Unit Commendation was awarded to James Monroe on August 22, 1972 for a consistent exhibition of her willingness to carry out assigned deployments along with her superior execution of deterrent patrols.
Upon the completion of 15 deterrent patrols based out of Guam, USS James Monroe returned to Pearl Harbor to consolidate her crew in preparation for her voyage to Newport News, Virginia in October of 1974 to undergo her second overhaul and conversion of her weaponry from Polaris A-3 missiles to Poseidon C-3. With this overhaul complete by 1977, James Monroe transited to Charleston, South Carolina which would serve as her homeport with deployments conducted out of Holy Loch, Scotland.
September 25, 1990 marked both James Monroe’s decommissioning and her elimination from the Naval Vessel Register. Her recycling was completed via the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program in Bremerton, Washington on January 10, 1995 at which time she ceased to exist.
Asbestos Risk on the USS James Monroe (SSBN-622)
It is unfortunate that the motto upheld by the USS James Monroe—“Watchful Waiting”—is applicable to all those who served aboard or were involved in the construction or maintenance of this vessel with regard to the development of an asbestos-related illness. Illnesses attributed to asbestos exposure, specifically mesothelioma, are known to have an extended latency period—a period ranging anywhere from 15-50 years in which the disease is in existence without any apparent symptoms. Thus, those who believe they may have been a victim of asbestos exposure in their past must keep a watchful eye for the presentation of any symptoms.
Insulation materials, gaskets, packing, tape/adhesives…these are just a few of the products employed by the shipbuilding industry that contained asbestos. This naturally-occurring mineral was so valued for its superior resistance to heat and fire that the Navy mandated its use. Historical estimates show that as much as 25 million tons of asbestos was used in the construction of ships during the time period of 1930 through 1978. The issue many people question is whether or not Navy officials were aware of the significant impact this substance would have on the health and well-being of all those who crossed its path.
With nearly 10,000 deaths occurring per year in America as a result of asbestos-related diseases—asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other cancers—this health epidemic is by far an issue worthy of national concern.
If you believe you are a victim of asbestos exposure through your service to our country aboard the USS James Monroe or a similar vessel, or if you are a family member of a veteran and believe you may be a victim of secondhand asbestos exposure (by means of exposure to fibers from personal clothing and effects), please contact us to request an information packet. This packet provides mesothelioma victims with helpful information about medical and legal options that may be available to them.Sources