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USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642)

USS Kamehameha—the 30th of the US Navy’s “41 for Freedom” Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs)—was named for Kamehameha I (1758-1819), a warrior, statesman, and first king of Hawaii responsible for uniting the Hawaiian Islands under a single ruler. Nicknamed Kamfish by her crew, Kamehameha’s official motto was “Imua”—Hawaiian for “go forth and conquer.” The unofficial motto adopted by the ship’s crew was “Kam do.”


Ordered on August 31, 1962, Kamehameha’s keel was laid down on May 2, 1963 at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California. Launched on January 16, 1965, she was sponsored by Mrs. Samuel Wilder King—wife of one of the first Hawaiian graduates of the US Naval Academy, Governor of Hawaii, and an advocate of Hawaiian statehood. Upon Kamehameha’s commissioning on December 10, 1965, two alternating crews, consisting of approximately 20 officers and 130 enlisted, were led by Commander Roth S. Leddick (blue crew) and Commander Robert W. Dickieson (gold crew).

Kamehameha measured 425 feet in length, reached speeds in excess of 20 knots (submerged), and had a surface displacement of 7,325 tons and a submerged displacement of 8,251 tons. Her armament included 16 missile tubes and four 21 inch torpedo tubes.

Naval History

A Benjamin Franklin-class submarine, Kamehameha’s primary duty as a SSBN was to conduct deterrent patrols during the Cold War in an effort to prevent aggression, maintain peace, and protect freedom. In commission for over 36 years, Kamehameha holds the record for the longest period of service among nuclear submarines.

Once commissioned in 1965, Kamehameha’s homeport was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At this time, she was assigned to the US Pacific Fleet with her patrols being conducted out of Apra Harbor, Guam. August 6, 1966 marked the initiation of her first deterrent patrol which concluded successfully in November of that same year.

Traveling via the Panama Canal, Kamehameha journeyed to Charleston, South Carolina in July of 1969 where she joined the Atlantic Fleet (Submarine Squadron 18). After two years of service in this capacity, she entered the shipyard at Groton, Connecticut (July 1971) for an overhaul and weapons conversion which would continue through October 1972.

After a brief stint conducting operations off the east coast of the United States post-overhaul, Kamehameha joined Submarine Squadron 16 out of Rota, Spain. She served here for six years before returning to Submarine Squadron 18 out of Charleston, South Carolina in July of 1979.

Deterrent patrols were the mainstay for Kamehameha throughout the following years until she entered the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a three year refueling overhaul (November 1986-December 1989).

By July of 1992, with 63 deterrent patrols to her credit, Kamehameha’s missile systems were inactivated at Mare Island Naval Shipyard as she was reclassified as an attack submarine and assigned hull number SSN-642. With torpedoes as her only armament, Kamehameha was assigned to Submarine Squadron One to conduct special warfare operations throughout the Pacific for the remainder of her career.

Kamehameha was both decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on April 2, 2002. At the time of her decommissioning, she was recognized as the oldest submarine in the US Navy and the last of the original “41 for Freedom” vessels in service. Kamehameha’s scrapping occurred via the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program in Bremerton, Washington from October 2001 through February 28, 2003.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642)

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was once deemed to be an invaluable fireproofing agent by industries from the time period of the 1930s through the mid-1970s. In particular, the U.S. Navy not only employed, but mandated the use of asbestos for the construction, repair, and maintenance of ships due to its superior heat and fire resistant properties. Today, asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) by three government agencies: The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Several factors contribute to the development of an asbestos-related illness, including quantity of asbestos, duration of exposure, composition of asbestos, and source of exposure. With regard to those individuals who served aboard submarines such as Kamehameha, they are considered to be at a high-risk for asbestos exposure as they were completely surrounded by this hazardous substance in both working and living quarters (quantity) for extended periods of time while conducting patrols (duration). In addition, the products that contained asbestos were often disturbed within the tight confines of the ship resulting in the release of fibers into a restricted air space (composition and source). Inhalation of asbestos fibers is known to place individuals at risk for several diseases including asbestosis and cancer (lung cancer and mesothelioma). Unfortunately, due to the extended latency period of these diseases (from 15-50 years), symptoms do not present themselves until long after the initial exposure has occurred. These circumstances often result in misdiagnoses or provide cancers the opportunity to spread for extended periods of time with the consequence of a poor prognosis at the time of diagnosis.

Current estimates show that as many as 10,000 deaths occur in the United States each year due to an asbestos-related disease, and it is predicted that these numbers will remain steady with an anticipated 100,000 deaths due to asbestos over the course of the next decade. Furthermore, in addition to every death, it is believed there will be numerous cases of non-fatal asbestos-related diseases diagnosed, comprising the health of thousands of individuals per year.

If you believe you or someone you know may be a victim of asbestos exposure, it is imperative that you explore all of the options available that are aimed at achieving optimal health and preservation of quality of life for as long as possible upon the onset of an asbestos-related illness. You or your loved may also consider exploring your legal options as you may be entitled to financial compensation based upon the circumstances of your exposure. Please contact us for an information packet to assist you in your efforts.



Wikipedia –USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642)


NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive

Naval History and Heritage Command

United States Department of Veterans Affairs—Occupational and Environmental Exposures: Asbestos

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