USS Lapon—the second US Navy ship to bear this name—was named for the scorpionfish species native to the Pacific coast of North America. In commission for approximately 25 years, USS Lapon’s motto was Secret et Hardi (Secret and Bold).
Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, located in Newport News, Virginia, laid down the keel of the USS Lapon on July 26, 1965, less than two years after having been awarded the contract for her construction on October 24, 1963. Launched on December 16, 1966, Lapon was sponsored by Mrs. Charles D. Griffin. Upon her commissioning on December 14, 1967, Lapon’s complement of 107 officers and enlisted men was led by Commander Chester M. “Whitey” Mack.
Lapon measured 292 feet, 3 inches in length and when submerged, displaced 4,640 tons and reached speeds of up to 25 knots. She was powered by two steam turbines, one propeller (15,000 shaft horsepower), and one S5W nuclear reactor. Lapon’s armament included four 21 inch torpedo tubes to house MK 48 Torpedoes, UUM-44A SUBROC missile system, UGM-84A/C Harpoons, MK57 deep water mines, and MK60 CAPTOR mines.
USS Lapon, a Sturgeon-class attack submarine, began her career as a member of submarine Squadron Six based out of Norfolk, Virginia. After extensive shakedown training in the Caribbean Islands near Puerto Rico and St. Croix in early 1968, Lapon departed on her first deployment to the North Atlantic for a time span of ten weeks. Operations conducted during this deployment earned Lapon her first Meritorious Unit Citation by the Secretary of the Navy.
In early 1969, Lapon carried out a second deployment to the North Atlantic which included a stop in Faslane, Scotland. This voyage earned Lapon her second Meritorious Unit Citation in addition to a Battle Efficiency “E” award for Submarine Division 62.
Lapon continued to receive distinguished awards by earning the 1970 Battle Efficiency “E” for Submarine Division 63 in July of 1970, the Marjorie Sterett Battleship award for the Atlantic Fleet ship with the highest proficiency in Battle Efficiency, and the Presidential Unit Citation (August 10, 1970) for actions performed during her deployment in the fall of 1969.
As a member of the Sixth Fleet, Lapon became the first 637 class submarine to embark on a Mediterranean deployment. This voyage, which included stops in Rota, Spain and Naples, Italy, took place from November 1970 to April 1, 1971.
Further Mediterranean deployments ensued for Lapon in subsequent years with six-month stints supporting the Sixth Fleet in mid-1973 and again in October of 1974. In preparation for these deployments, Lapon underwent her first major overhaul in the fall of 1971 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine and completed an extensive upkeep in Norfolk, Virginia in early 1974.
Newport News Shipyard and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia was the site of a second major overhaul for Lapon which initiated on March 1, 1976. Deployments following this overhaul included a voyage to the Bahamas in December of 1978, Arctic expeditions at the North Pole in the late 1980s, and a journey off the Virginia Capes in February of 1991.
After being deactivated on October 1, 1991, Lapon was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on August 8, 1992. Her scrapping was initiated on March 1, 2003 via the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard located in Bremerton, Washington. Aside from her sail—preserved in Springfield, Missouri as a war memorial at American Legion Post 639—Lapon ceased to exist on August 31, 2004.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Lapon (SSN-661)
Asbestos was once considered the most cost-effective and preeminent insulation material available for industrial and commercial use due to its strength, flexibility, and heat and fire resistant properties. Today, this same material is classified as a human carcinogen—a cancer-causing agent responsible for compromising the health of numerous individuals and serving as the root cause of diseases that result in nearly 10,000 deaths in America each year.
Under the direction of the US Navy, more than 300 materials containing asbestos were utilized in the construction and maintenance of navy vessels. In conjunction with steel, asbestos was one of the most widely used materials in the shipbuilding industry from the 1930s through the mid-1970s. Materials such as pipe covers and insulators, tape, gaskets, insulation, adhesives, valves and cables were installed and employed in all areas of these ships from boiler and engine rooms (where heat and fire resistance was paramount) to living areas such as mess halls and sleeping quarters. Navy veterans were literally immersed in an environment filled with asbestos while they served their country aboard US Navy ships.
Asbestos laden submarines, such as the USS Lapon, have placed navy veterans and shipyard workers at an increased risk for the development of a variety of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. When the asbestos products employed on these ships were disturbed or began to deteriorate, asbestos fibers were released into the surrounding atmosphere where they were likely inhaled by those individuals in close proximity. These fibers, once inhaled, become embedded in an individual’s lung tissue and remain there for an extended period of time. The quantity of asbestos that one is exposed to, in combination with the duration of time that one is exposed, results in an accumulation of these fibers in the lungs and eventually scarring and inflammation occurs. The end-result, which may not be evident until years after exposure due to an extended latency period ranging anywhere from 15-50 years for asbestos-related illnesses, is difficulty breathing and eventually the development of serious lung diseases such as mesothelioma. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the more treatment options are generally available. If you have developed mesothelioma and would like to learn more, please fill out the form on this page.Sources
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
Naval History and Heritage Command
National Cancer Institute