The second US Navy vessel to bear the name Parche, USS Parche (SSN-683) was named for the small butterfly fish with four eyes and an exceptional ability to navigate through the complex reef systems found below the ocean’s surface. Her predecessor, USS Parche (SS-384) was recognized as one of the most highly decorated submarines to serve during WW II as part of the Pacific Submarine Force (SUBPAC). USS Parche (SSN-683) took this distinction of her predecessor to the next level by earning recognition as the most decorated submarine in the history of the US Navy. Earning 13 Navy Expeditionary Medals, 10 Navy Unit Citations, and nine Presidential Unit Citations throughout the duration of her career, USS Parche held true to her motto “Par Excellence” by proving to be the best of her kind.
The keel of the USS Parche was laid down at Ingalls Shipbuilding, located in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on December 10, 1970—approximately two and half years after the US Navy issued the order for her construction. Mrs. Philip A. Beshany, wife of Rear Admiral Phillip A. Beshany, served as Parche’s sponsor at the launching ceremony on January 13, 1973. Upon her commissioning on August 17, 1974, Commander Richard N. Charles took charge of the ship’s complement of 14 officers and 98 enlisted men.
The 34th Sturgeon-class attack submarine to be constructed, USS Parche measured 302 feet in length and was capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 knots and depths down to 1,300 feet. She possessed a surface displacement of 3,640 tons and a submerged displacement of 4,640 tons. Parche was equipped with four 21 inch torpedo tubes to aid in her defense.
USS Parche underwent an extensive overhaul at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard from 1987 through 1991. A series of modifications were implemented in an effort to prepare Parche for a transition to research and development work. The most notable of the modifications was the addition of a one hundred foot extension to her hull in front of her sail. This extended hull increased Parche’s submerged displacement to 7,800 tons and allowed for the accommodation of a larger crew consisting of 179 members—22 officers and 157 enlisted men. Further changes included the addition of a wide variety of new equipment in support of intelligence-gathering, navigation, and engineering operations.
USS Parche began her more than 30 years of service by joining the Atlantic Submarine Force in 1974. Operating as a unit of Submarine Squadron Four, she was based out of Charleston, South Carolina at the onset of her career.
The fall of 1975 marked a new assignment for Parche as she joined the Sixth Fleet conducting patrols in the Mediterranean Sea over a six-month period. Prior to her return to the United States in March of 1976, she had visited Naples, La Maddalena, Taranto, and La Spezia, Italy.
Parche continued her duties as a member of the United States Atlantic Fleet through October of 1976 at which time she was transferred to the United States Pacific Fleet. She arrived at her new homeport—Mare Island Naval Shipyard (Vallejo, California)—on October 30, 1976. At this location, Parche underwent a period of ocean engineering adaptations to prepare her for a new phase of her career as a member of Submarine Development Group One (SDG-1). As a member of this group, Parche would be responsible for carrying out a series of multifaceted and highly classified operations.
After completing a cycle of shakedown training in August and September of 1978, Parche was well-prepared to initiate her covert operations. In 1979, Parche was credited with acquiring valuable intelligence on activities performed by the Soviet Navy by means of successfully tapping into communication cables belonging to the Soviet military in the Barents Sea. The details of this mission—which came to be known as “Ivy Bells”—eventually became public knowledge despite the Navy’s best efforts to keep it confidential.
While operating out of Mare Island, Parche was recognized for carrying out a total of nine successful deployments, the majority of which were classified.
Following a four-year transitional phase (1987-1991) in which she was extensively modified to allow her to function in her new role of conducting research and development work, Parche resumed operations with the Pacific Fleet in 1992 as a member of Submarine Development Squadron 5.
In November of 1994, Parche was reassigned to a new homeport—Naval Base Kitsap located in Bangor, Washington. This port would serve as her base of operations for the remainder of her career.
Decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on July 18, 2005, USS Parche’s scrapping was completed via the Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard by November 30, 2006. Parche’s sail—on display at a maritime park in Bremerton—is all that remains of this legendary ship.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Parche (SSN-683)
The naturally occurring mineral asbestos was once employed by the US Navy as a means of safeguarding her personnel from the dangers associated with high-temperatures and the risk of fires within the confined areas of a ship. Not only was asbestos well-recognized for its durability and resistance to heat and fire, it was also easily accessible and cost-effective. For these reasons, its use was not only applauded by the Navy, but mandated. Asbestos could be found in a myriad of products (e.g., insulation materials, tape, gaskets, packing, adhesives, cables) used in both the construction and maintenance of ships, specifically within the time period ranging from the 1930s through the mid-1970s.
With a vast array of asbestos and asbestos products circulating throughout US shipyards, and an estimated 4.5 million workers employed by this industry from 1930-1978, inevitably the degree of human exposure to asbestos was significant. As a result of this exposure, which occurred many years ago, we are now witness to an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos-related diseases—asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma being the most prevalent—are known for their extended latency periods. This means that an individual exposed to asbestos at some point in their career may not present with any symptoms of an asbestos-related illness until as many as 15 to 50 years after the initial exposure occurred.
The risk factors that contribute to the development of one of the aforementioned diseases and determine how asbestos exposure will impact the health of a particular individual include the following: the quantity of asbestos (dose); the composition of the asbestos (shape and chemical makeup of the fibers); the source of exposure (e.g., from what products and in what type of environment); how long the exposure occurred for (duration); and what additional risk factors exist (e.g., smoking, pre-existing lung conditions).
Asbestos—a material that at one time was praised for its ability to provide a measure of safety to the US Navy’s workforce and shipyard workers—has been determined today to be a known human carcinogen by several government agencies (i.e., the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], the World Health Organization [WHO], and The Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS]). In short, we now know that the inhalation of asbestos fibers increases an individual’s risk for the development of cancer.
If you believe that you were exposed to asbestos products in your past work history, in particular with respect to the shipbuilding industry and/or service aboard a ship such as USS Parche you may be at risk for developing mesothelioma cancer. Our free mesothelioma information packet provides a wealth of information about the resources that are available to those who have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease. Please request one by filling out the form on this page.Sources
The Parche Association
Wikipedia–USS Parche (SSN-683)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
Federation of American Scientists