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USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)

The only Navy ship to be named after John Marshall, who served as chief justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835, the USS John Marshall was an Ethan Allen-class submarine that served for three decades during the Cold War, from 1962 to 1992. While she was constructed as a fleet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN-611), she was reclassified as an attack submarine (SSN-611) after talks with the Soviet Union resulted in the removal of ballistic missiles from some American submarines. Today, the John Marshall’s bell is displayed at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.


The contract to build the USS John Marshall was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Newport News, Virginia, where her keel was laid down in April 1960. The submarine was launched on July 15, 1961, sponsored by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, wife of the then-Attorney General of the United States. The USS John Marshall was commissioned on May 21, 1962 with Commander Robert W. Stecher leading the Blue Crew and Commander Robert D. Donavan leading the Gold Crew.

Naval History

Shortly after her sea trials in May 1962, the John Marshall joined the Atlantic Fleet as a member of Submarine Squadron 14. After firing several test Polaris A-2 missiles, she became the first U.S. fleet ballistic missile to visit a foreign port: Ismir, Turkey.

The John Marshall’s main responsibility was to perform deterrent patrols against her Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union; between April 1963 and November 1966, she conducted a total of 17 such patrols based out of Holy Loch, Scotland. In December 1966, she entered Newport New Shipbuilding for her first major overhaul.

When the overhaul was completed in April 1968, she set out on further deterrent patrols, again based out of the waters of Scotland. In June 1970, she joined Submarine Squadron 16 and traveled to Rota, Spain, which would begin the base for her next set of patrols. She remained there until June 1973, when she returned to the States for a dependents cruise from New London, Connecticut before proceeding to Charleston, South Carolina.

The John Marshall entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard in November 1974 for her second refueling overhaul. At the same time, she had her missile systems converted to Polaris A-3 missiles. By May 1976, the work was complete and she was ready to resume her deterrent patrols, this time based out of Apra Harbor, Guam. Her final patrol concluded on December 28, 1980, with her arrival at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

In early 1981, the John Marshall ceased to be a fleet ballistic missile submarine and was reclassified as an attack submarine; her new hull number was SSN-611. After a brief stint in Pearl Harbor, the submarine traveled to Charleston, South Carolina in July 1981 to join Submarine Squadron 4.

The John Marshall departed on her first deployment to the Mediterranean Sea in December 1981. She participated in fleet exercises and visited ports in Italy, Morocco and Portugal before returning Charleston on May 21, 1982 – the 20th anniversary of her commissioning. It was then time for the John Marshall’s third overhaul. Along with her sister, the USS Sam Houston (SSBN-609), she underwent modifications for her new operations, including being fitted with two Dry Dock Shelters.

After joining Submarine Squadron 6 in Norfolk, Virginia in November 1985, the John Marshall deployed on her second voyage to the Mediterranean. She conducted special operation demonstrations near Puerto Rico in September 1987, and made her successful 1,000th dive on October 25, 1988. A third deployment to the Mediterranean followed in 1989, the first time a submarine had deployed anywhere with two dry deck shelters on board. The deployment also earned her a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

The John Marshall conducted exercises in the Caribbean Sea in 1990, and deployed on her final trip to the Mediterranean a year later, this time in support of Operation Desert Storm. She began deactivation in 1992 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington. She was decommissioned on July 22, 1922, and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day. She was disposed of through the Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, ceasing to exist on March 29, 1993.

Asbestos Risk on the USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)

Throughout her career – both as a fleet ballistic missile submarine and as an attack submarine – the USS John Marshall was equipped with mechanical equipment that was capable of becoming extremely hot. While it may seem ironic that an underwater vessel could be at risk of fire, all this heat was a distinct fire hazard on board submarines. From the 1920s to the 1970s, the U.S. Navy fought this risk by using a naturally occurring mineral called asbestos aboard its vessels. Unfortunately, the public has since learned that asbestos is toxic, and exposure to the mineral can cause a range of diseases.

Asbestos was used in both the mechanical areas and the living quarters of the ship, putting virtually all sailors at risk. At perhaps an even greater risk of exposure were workers in shipyards where submarines were constructed, repaired or scrapped, for it was at these points that asbestos products – such as insulation, engine parts and gaskets – were disrupted, releasing their toxic dust into the air.

If you served aboard a Navy submarine between the 1920s and the 1970s, or if you worked at a shipyard that built or serviced Navy submarines, you may be at risk of being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be at risk, don’t wait. Learn about the risk factors and treatment options for mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos-related diseases today.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari


USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)

Wikipedia – USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)

NavSource – USS John Marshall (SSBN-611)