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USS Puffer (SSN-652)

The USS Puffer (SSN-652) was part of the U.S. Navy’s Sturgeon class, a group of submarines known as the “work horses” of the Navy’s attack submarine fleet throughout the Cold War. The vessels remained in use until the early 2000s, but were generally phased out by their successors, the Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia classes. The Puffer was the second Navy ship to be named after the pufferfish, a poisonous fish that inflates its body with air.

Construction

The Puffer was ordered in March 1963, and her keel was laid down in February 1965 at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was launched nearly three years later on March 30, 1968 ; her sponsor was Mrs. John B. Colwell. She was commissioned on August 9, 1969 with Commander John M. Will in command.

Weighing over 4,000 tons, the 292-foot Puffer carried a complement of 14 officers and 95 enlisted men. A Navy document produced for the Puffer’s launch praised the ship’s design and construction, stating, “Puffer will add significantly to the overall deterrent posture of the United States and the Free World.”

Naval History

Two days after she was commissioned, the USS Puffer set off for Hawaiian waters, where she would be based for much of her service. From her home port of Pearl Harbor, the Puffer departed on her first Western Pacific deployment in March 1971, visiting ports throughout Japan, Alaska and the Philippines. In June 1972, the Puffer traveled to Washington’s Puget Sound and became the first Pacific Fleet submarine certified to carry the MK-48 Torpedo. She was also the first submarine to shoot the torpedo on the Torpedo Test Range at Barking Sands, Kauai.

In January 1987 – after nine deployments to the Western Pacific and several deployments to the Northern Pacific – the Puffer’s home port was changed from Pearl Harbor to Bremerton, Washington. She was relocated to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where she was entered into drydock and received an overhaul. She then went to a new home port in San Diego, California.

The Puffer deployed on her tenth Western Pacific deployment in 1989, and the following year went on her first to the Arctic Ocean. During the course of that two-month operation, she surfaced twenty-five times in the Arctic, including once at the North Pole. By the time she was decommissioned seven years later, she had completed twelve deployments to the Western Pacific and two to the Arctic, earning numerous commendations for her work.

The USS Puffer was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on July 12, 1996. She was scrapped as part of the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Puffer (SSN-652)

When veterans think back to their days serving aboard the USS Puffer or other Navy submarines, they may not instantly think about the air they were breathing. But years later, exposure to hazardous materials aboard these vessels has caused thousands of veterans to be diagnosed with serious respiratory diseases and significantly damaged their quality of life.

That hazardous material is asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was used for much of the 20th century in insulation, tape, cloth and other products aboard submarines. The U.S. Navy mandated that asbestos be used in the construction of submarines because of its strength, durability, and powerful heat-resisting and fireproofing qualities. Today, however, we know the substance is highly toxic. Exposure to asbestos fibers in the air can cause irreversible damage to the human body; when the mineral’s tiny, crystalline fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they can become lodged in a person’s lungs or abdomen and cause diseases like asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer.

Unfortunately, millions of people were exposed to asbestos before these dangers were publicly known – not just veterans, but also shipyard workers, construction workers, plumbers, and a wide range of other occupations. If you think asbestos exposure may be affecting your health or the health of a loved one, request an information packet today to learn about your health options and legal rights.

Sources
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

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