The USS Patrick Henry was a George Washington-class, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine constructed for the U.S. Navy in the late 1950s. She was named after the famed Patrick Henry (1736-1799), one of the United States’ Founding Fathers and the first governor of Virginia. She served the U.S. Navy for 25 years.
The USS Patrick Henry was laid down in May 1958 by the Electric Boat Corporation of Groton, Connecticut, a shipyard that built submarines for the Navy for more than 100 years. The Patrick Henry was launched in September 1959 and commissioned the following April under the leadership of commanders Harold E. Shear and Robert L. J. Long. The 381-foot submarine was manned alternately by two crews – the “Blue” and the “Gold” – each consisting of 12 officers and 100 men. She was outfitted with an armament of 16 Polaris A1/A3 missiles and six torpedo tubes.
The Patrick Henry spent much of the 1960s on patrols off Holy Loch, an inlet off the west coast of Scotland. She set off on her first deterrent patrol in December 1960, and when she surfaced off Holy Loch the following March she had already set a record for her type – cruising submerged for 66 days and 22 hours. She remained near Holy Loch until December 1964, completing 17 patrols in that time, and then returned to Groton, Connecticut for 18 months for repairs. She departed Charleston, South Carolina in December 1966, again for patrols at Holy Loch. In the 1970s, her home port was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and she remained with the Pacific Fleet into the 1980s.
In 1982, the Patrick Henry was one of a number of submarines to have their ballistic missile tubes disabled – a concession made in talks with the Soviet Union in order to lessen the threat of nuclear war. She was reclassified as an attack submarine (SSN-599), and in her new role, she mainly conducted training exercises. The Patrick Henry was decommissioned in May 1984, and dismantled and disposed of at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as part of the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program. Recycling was completed August 21, 1997.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599)
While they didn’t know it at the time, many of the brave men who served aboard the USS Patrick Henry were exposed to a hidden danger – asbestos. Starting in the 1920s, the naturally occurring, naturally fireproof mineral was used in virtually all areas of Navy submarines, as insulation in boiler rooms, on steam pipes, in gaskets and in fireproof blankets. In fact, in 1922 the Navy mandated the use of asbestos in all new submarines: the flexible, weaveable, white-colored chrysotile asbestos was to be used in insulation, packing and tape, while brown amosite asbestos was designated for insulation.
Unfortunately, these asbestos products were not safe, as many veterans have now tragically come to find out. When insulation and other asbestos products age, they begin to emit a fine dust into the air that, when inhaled, can make breathing difficult. In severe cases, exposure to these asbestos particles can cause mesothelioma, a rare and inoperable form of cancer that affects the lungs or abdomen. Thousands and thousands of unsuspecting veterans have been diagnosed with the disease – some as many as 50 years after their military service came to an end. That’s because the disease has an extremely long latency period, and can go undetected for decade after the point of exposure.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for mesothelioma – but there are treatment options that can lengthen and improve a diagnosed person’s quality of life. If you think you or a loved one may have been harmed by exposure to asbestos aboard a Navy submarine, learn about your options today.Sources
USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599) – Wikipedia
USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599) – Navy Site
"Asbestos and Ship-Building: Fatal Consequences"