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USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618)

The namesake of fleet ballistic missile submarine SSBN-618 was Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)—third President of the United States, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and founding father of the University of Virginia. Guided by the motto “Hostility Against Tyranny,” USS Thomas Jefferson was the second ship of the US Navy’s fleet to bear this name.

Construction

Newport News Shipbuilding, located in Newport News, Virginia, laid the keel of USS Thomas Jefferson on February 3, 1961. Launched just over a year later on February 24, 1962, this fifth and final Ethan Allen-class submarine was sponsored by Mrs. Robert S. McNamara—wife of US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Upon her commissioning on January 4, 1963, USS Thomas Jefferson’s Blue Crew was led by Commander Leon H. Rathburn and her Gold Crew was led by Commander Charles Priest, Jr. Each crew was comprised of 12 officers and 128 enlisted men.

Measuring 410 feet in length and reaching speeds in excess of 20 knots, USS Thomas Jefferson was capable of reaching depths down to 1,300 feet. Her displacement was 6,700 tons when surfaced and 7,600 tons when submerged. In addition to four 21 inch torpedo tubes, Thomas Jefferson was armed with 16 missile tubes equipped with Polaris missiles.

Naval History

Assigned to Submarine Squadron 14, USS Thomas Jefferson began her career of service to her country with her first deterrent patrol on October 28, 1963. This initial patrol, which concluded in December of 1963 in Holy Loch, Scotland, was manned by the Blue Crew. Holy Loch would come to serve as Thomas Jefferson’s base of operations from where she would carry out continuous patrols over the course of the next four years.

Upon completion of her 15th deterrent patrol (initiated on January 12, 1967), Thomas Jefferson returned to her place of origin—Newport News, Virginia—where she underwent her first overhaul and refueling. By June of 1968, Thomas Jefferson was back in the water conducting training exercises for both her Blue and Gold Crews in preparation for further deterrent patrols.

Following her 16th deterrent patrol, which commenced on October 29, 1968 and concluded on December 5th of that same year in Rota, Spain, Thomas Jefferson would proceed to carry out four patrols per year from 1969 through 1972. These patrols were interspersed with special operations in the years of 1970 and 1971—one of which earned the vessel’s Gold Crew a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Upon completion of her 36th and final patrol in the Atlantic on March 22, 1974, Thomas Jefferson transited to New London, Connecticut by May 22nd after making stops in Norfolk, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. At this time, Thomas Jefferson’s crews were notified of the ship’s reassignment to the Pacific Fleet with a new homeport in Vallejo, California.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard served as the site for Thomas Jefferson’s overhaul, refueling, and conversion of weaponry to the Polaris A-3 missile system from July 1, 1974 through November 17, 1975. Post-overhaul shakedown training and Polaris missile testing ensued from January through March of 1976 under the direction of the Blue Crew. Shortly thereafter, the Gold Crew took over shakedown operations which endured through August 1976.

USS Thomas Jefferson resumed her tour of duty operating as a member of Submarine Squadron 15 (Pacific Fleet) on August 8, 1976. She continued her patrols of the ocean—deterring enemy forces—and would come to have 44 deterrent patrols to her credit by the end of 1978.

On March 11, 1981, Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618) became SSN-618 as she was reclassified as an attack submarine in compliance with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). As a result, her missile systems were disabled and her primary function evolved as a vessel employed for the purpose of training exercises.

Decommissioned on January 24, 1985 and later stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on April 30, 1986, USS Thomas Jefferson’s dismantling and disposal was completed by means of the Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program on March 6, 1998. The only element of this vessel that remains is her sail which is on display at a park located near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618)

Each year in the United States nearly 10,000 individuals die from an illness attributed to asbestos exposure. These illnesses—asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—are the result of inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers that become embedded in lung tissue. These embedded fibers eventually cause scarring which gives way to these serious health conditions.

The naturally occurring mineral asbestos was once a material at the forefront of industrial use in environments where heat and fire resistance were paramount. The time period from 1930 through the mid-1970s witnessed the application of asbestos across a broad spectrum of businesses involved in construction—in particular, shipbuilding. The shipbuilding industry employed asbestos in a wide array of products ranging from insulation materials to adhesives to gaskets and valves, to name a few. Historical evidence cites that the US Navy held this substance in such high regard that its use was not optional, but rather mandated.

Fast forward to the present day...asbestos is no longer considered a phenomenal product. Instead, this mineral is now recognized as a known human carcinogen by several government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Asbestos-related diseases, especially mesothelioma, are very serious in nature and often fatal. If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos products it is possible that you could be at risk to develop mesothelioma.

Please contact us for an information packet to obtain further details regarding asbestos exposure, related illnesses, and the options available to you with regard to your health and legal rights.

Sources
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

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