The USS Pargo (SSN-650) was the second US Navy ship to bear the name—succeeding Pargo (SS-264) of the Gato class. Named for the pargo, a fish of the genus Lutjanus (otherwise known as the red snapper), she bore the motto “For Land, For Honor, For Courage.”
Ordered on March 26, 1963, the contract for construction of the USS Pargo was awarded to the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation located in Groton, Connecticut. Her keel was laid down just over a year later on June 3, 1964. Sponsored by Mrs. James L. Holloway, Jr. (wife of Admiral Holloway [1898-1984]), her launch took place on the 17th of September 1966 with her commissioning occurring on the 5th of January 1968.
Equipped with four 21 inch torpedo tubes, MK 48 Torpedoes, UUM-44A SUBROC, UGM-84A/C Harpoon, MK57 deep water mines, and MK60 CAPTOR mines, Pargo measured 292 feet, 3 inches in length, displaced 4,640 tons (submerged), and reached speeds of up to 25 knots (submerged). Her complement of 107 was led by Commander Steven A. White.
USS Pargo was a member of the Sturgeon class of submarines—nuclear-powered, fast attack submarines (SSNs) serving the US Navy from the 1960s until 2004. Direct descendants of the Thresher/Permit class, the boats of the Sturgeon class were considered an improved version from their predecessors mainly due to two distinct features: 1) fairwater planes that provided them the ability to rise through thin ice, and 2) significantly larger sails that enhanced their ability to gather intelligence.
In commission for 27 years (1968-1995), Pargo’s primary mission throughout her term of service was to identify, pursue, and obliterate enemy submarines. Recognized as one of the Navy’s most efficient forms of anti-submarine weaponry, Pargo was well-known for her advanced electronic resources combined with her excessive speed, quietness, and ability to descend deep beneath the ocean’s surface.
With her homeport in New London, Connecticut, one of Pargo’s first missions following her commissioning was to participate in a search effort for a missing vessel (Scorpion SSN-589) in the spring of 1968. Following this assignment, Pargo’s operations during her years of service to her country included journeys to the Arctic Circle, the Caribbean, Belgium, West Africa, the Barents Sea, and the Faroe Islands.
April 14, 1995 marked the day that Pargo was simultaneously decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Entered into the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program located in Bremerton, Washington at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Pargo’s scrapping was officially completed on October 15, 1996.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Pargo (SSN-650)
Many shipyard workers and navy veterans who once believed their toughest challenges occurred years ago as they constructed submarines and pursued enemy ships are today finding themselves facing unexpected new challenges with regard to their health and well-being. These new challenges can be attributed to one single substance that they came into contact with at some point in their careers: asbestos.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was widely used for industrial purposes beginning in the 1930s through the mid-1970s. Strength, flexibility, and heat resistance made asbestos a key component in more than 300 materials used by the US Navy for the construction and maintenance of its vessels. From areas of mechanical operations to the sailors’ living quarters, asbestos could be found in a wide range of products including insulation materials, valves, gaskets, cables, and adhesives. The high-incidence of exposure to asbestos products, coupled with the tight confines and limited airspace of a submarine, placed navy veterans and shipyard personnel at an increased risk for the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Once inhaled, these fibers were likely to attach to lung tissue, and in turn, set the stage for the development of one of several debilitating diseases associated with asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis (lung tissue scarring that produces breathing problems), cancer (in the form of lung cancer or mesothelioma), and pleural plaques (scarring in areas surrounding the lungs that results in breathing problems—often less severe than asbestosis) are several ailments whose origins have been scientifically linked to asbestos exposure. While the government began to issue regulations regarding the use of asbestos by the mid-1970s, it is believed that as early as 1939 the Navy was well aware of the risks asbestos use imposed on human health and safety. The fact that the abundant supply, cost-effectiveness, and efficient performance of this product were valued over human safety and the preservation of human life is a troubling aspect in the history of United States industrial applications.
With an extended latency period ranging anywhere from 15 to 50 years from the time of initial exposure to the development of symptoms, the identification and diagnosis of asbestos-related diseases often occurs too late. For many individuals, particularly those with mesothelioma, their life span is approximately two to three years once they have been officially diagnosed.
If you are a navy veteran who served aboard the USS Pargo or a similar vessel, or an individual who was in any way involved with the construction, maintenance, repair, or demolition of a submarine such as USS Pargo, you may consider seeking a consultation with a medical professional concerning your potential risk for an asbestos-related illness. Additional information can also be found on our website regarding asbestos exposure, steps to safeguard your health and well-being, and the legal rights you may have if you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.Sources
Naval History and Heritage Command
Wikipedia –USS Pargo (SSN-650)
United States Department of Veterans Affairs—Occupational and Environmental Exposures: Asbestos http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/occupational_environmental/asbestos.asp