USS Richard B. Russell, nicknamed “Dickey B.,” was the only ship of the US Navy’s fleet to be named in honor of the Georgia Senator who served from 1933-1971. Her motto, “They Saved the Best for Last,” reflected her status of being the last submarine of the Sturgeon class to be constructed.
Newport News Shipbuilding, located in Newport News, Virginia, was the recipient of the contract to construct Richard B. Russell on July 25, 1969. Her keel was authenticated by Senator Russell’s sister and official hostess, Mrs. Ina Russell Stacey, and laid down on October 19, 1971. On January 12, 1974, Richard B. Russell was launched at Newport News where she was sponsored by Mrs. Herman E. Talmadge, wife of the US Senator from Georgia whose term ran from 1957-1981. The vessel was commissioned 19 months later on the 16th of August 1975.
Displacing 3,640 tons surfaced and 4,640 tons submerged, Richard B. Russell measured 292 feet, 3 inches and descended to depths of up to 1,300 feet. She was powered by a S5W nuclear reactor, two steam turbines, and one propeller and was capable of speeds of up to 25 knots when submerged. Equipped with four 21 inch torpedo tubes to house MK48 torpedoes, UUM-44A SUBROC, and UGM-84A/C Harpoon missiles, her armament also included the capability to lay MK57 deep water and MK60 CAPTOR mines. Her complement of 126 individuals was comprised of 14 officers and 112 enlisted crew members.
A unique housing was attached to the hull (behind the sail) of the Richard B. Russell during August of 1977. This housing, referred to as a “bustle,” contained an antenna buoy and served as a prototype for what would be included on future submarine classes.
In service for nearly 19 years, the Richard B. Russell was the recipient of the Presidential Unit Citation—the most prestigious award given to any naval unit. In addition, she received a Meritorious Unit Commendation, six Navy Unit Commendations, and seven Battle Effectiveness (Battle “E”) Awards.
Once commissioned, Richard B. Russell completed deployments in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean in the early 1980s. In 1982, she voyaged through the Panama Canal to Vallejo, California where she underwent an extensive overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. During her overhaul, Richard B. Russell was reassigned to become a special projects submarine. In preparation for her transition to Submarine Development Group 1, sea trials, overhaul testing, and engineering modifications were conducted. In her new capacity, she led testing programs for submarine rescue technology.
On June24, 1994, Richard B. Russell was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Upon her decommissioning, she was placed in storage at Bremerton, Washington for over seven years until she was entered into the Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on October 1, 2001 for scrapping. Richard B. Russell ceased to exist on January 3, 2003.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Richard B. Russell (SSN-687)
Asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—these are among the devastating asbestos-related illnesses plaguing many individuals who served our country in the US Navy and in the shipbuilding industry through the mid-1970s. Unbeknownst to them, many of these individuals found out years later that exposure to asbestos materials during their time in service would result in long-term, debilitating, and often fatal, consequences to their overall health and well-being.
In a quest to attain exceptional standards in safety aboard its submarines, the US Navy turned to asbestos which offered a cost-effective solution for providing resistance to heat and fire. Incorporating this naturally occurring mineral into all aspects of the construction, maintenance, and repair of its vessels, the Navy may have responded to an immediate need to maintain safety standards, but in retrospect, created a toxic environment for shipyard workers and crew members. Historical reports indicate that the Navy’s Surgeon General was alerted to the hazardous effects of asbestos on human health as early as 1939. However, the Navy continued to employ this toxin for nearly four more decades. This course of action presumes that the attributes of this so called “wonder product” –availability, low cost, ease of industrial application, and heat and fire resistant properties –were placed in the forefront ahead of human health and safety.
Current statistics show that nearly 10,000 deaths in the United States occur each year as a result of an asbestos-related illness. With the extended latency period of these diseases ranging anywhere from 20-50 years, it is anticipated that these numbers will continue, and may even increase, producing a projection of over 100,000 asbestos-related deaths over the next decade.
If you are a veteran who served aboard a ship such as the USS Richard B. Russell, or you were employed by the shipbuilding industry, it is highly likely that at some point in your career you were exposed to asbestos. How much asbestos you were exposed to, how long of a period of time you were exposed for, the composition of the asbestos fibers, and the source of the exposure are all key factors in assessing the level of your risk for the development of an asbestos-related disease. As both a veteran and victim of asbestos exposure, there are numerous support systems—including medical, psychological, and legal assistance—available to you as you explore your risk factors, assess your health, and seek out the best plan to preserve your quality of life in the years to come.Sources
Wikipedia –USS Richard B. Russell (SSN-687)
NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
Environmental Protection Agency
National Cancer Institute