Resources for Patients and their Families

USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623)

Nathan Hale (1755-1776), a native of Coventry, Connecticut and a graduate of Yale College (1773), was the namesake of the USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623). Nathan Hale, a teacher by profession, is most famously remembered for his role as a spy in the summer of 1776 (under the direction of George Washington) during the American Revolutionary War. Captured by the British and sentenced to death by hanging, Nathan Hale’s last words supported his quest for American freedom: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”


The Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, located in Groton, Connecticut, was awarded the contract to build USS Nathan Hale on February 3, 1961. Twenty months later, on October 2, 1962, her keel was laid down at that site. Sponsored by Mrs. George Whelan Anderson, Jr., Nathan Hale was launched on January 12, 1963 and later commissioned in a very solemn ceremony on November 23, 1963—one day following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Nathan Hale employed two crews (Blue and Gold), each consisting of 13 officers and 130 enlisted men. Commander Joseph W. Russel led the Blue Crew while Commander Samuel S. Ellis led the members of the Gold Crew.

Nathan Hale measured 425 feet in length and was powered by a S5W pressurized nuclear reactor in conjunction with two geared turbines and one propeller. Capable of reaching depths down to 1,300 feet, she displaced 8,250 tons when submerged and reached speeds in excess of 20 knots. Her armament consisted of four 21 inch torpedo tubes and 16 ballistic missile tubes.

Naval History

The USS Nathan Hale, in commission for 24 years, was the sixth nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarine (FBM) to be constructed as part of the Lafayette class. The submarines of this class evolved from those of the Ethan Allen class and overall were larger in size with some general improvements.

The Lafayette class was one of five classes, along with the George Washington class, the Ethan Allen class, the James Madison class, and the Benjamin Franklin class, that comprised the US Navy’s collection of ships referred to as the “41 for Freedom.” These ships patrolled the seas worldwide in an effort to maintain peace by serving as a deterrent force against any signs of aggression from Communist forces, in particular the Soviet Union. The motto of the USS Nathan Hale—Vis Unita Fortior (United Strength is Stronger)—personified the primary mission of this fleet of US Navy submarines whose primary goal was to band together as a united force against the threat of nuclear war.

After completion of shakedown training on the East Coast of the United States, USS Nathan Hale began her service out of her new homeport in Charleston, South Carolina on May 21, 1964 as a member of Submarine Squadron 16. During her time in service she underwent one conversion of her weaponry in the 1970s in which her missile system was upgraded from Polaris missiles to Poseidon missiles. As she neared the end of her career in April of 1986, Nathan Hale had completed 69 deterrent patrols as a member of the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet.

Decommissioned on November 3, 1986, USS Nathan Hale was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register shortly thereafter on January 31, 1987. She was entered into the Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, located in Bremerton, Washington, on October 2, 1991. Two and a half years later, on April 5, 1994, she ceased to exist when her recycling was completed.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623)

Two primary products were utilized by the shipbuilding industry between the 1920s and the 1980s: steel and asbestos. Of the millions of workers and navy veterans employed by this industry during that time period, few, if any, were aware of the significant impact one of these products would have on the condition of their health.

Once revered as a wonder product whose cost was low, whose supply was great, and whose heat and fire resistant properties were insurmountable, asbestos would eventually come to be known as a cancer causing agent and enemy to mankind.

Incorporated into products ranging from insulation materials to adhesives, gaskets, paints, and valves, among numerous other materials, asbestos could literally be found in every crevice of submarines constructed for the US Navy. Once disturbed, the tiny fibers of this friable material would become airborne entering the lungs and becoming embedded in the lung tissue of all individuals in the surrounding area. The enclosed space and limited ventilation within the confines of a submarine only exacerbated the harmful effects of this deadly substance.

Once embedded in the lung tissue of an individual, asbestos fibers are known to cause scarring and inflammation, which in turn, leads to the consequence of the development of one of several serious lung conditions attributed to asbestos exposure: asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. These diseases, which often present themselves years after initial exposure to asbestos has occurred, often prove to be debilitating and eventually fatal to those who fall victim to them.

If you are a Navy veteran who served aboard a vessel such as the USS Nathan Hale, or if you were an individual employed by the shipbuilding industry at a time when asbestos use was not restricted and have developed mesothelioma, please contact us to request an information packet. We will respond to your request right away.



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