Asbestos in the military

USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24)

Description:  History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) was originally planned to be the USS New Haven (CL-76).  She was ordered for the U.S. Navy during World War II.  Her keel was laid down at New York Shipbuilding Corporation on August 11, 1941.  She was launched on December 6, 1942 and commissioned on March 31, 1943 under the command of Captain A.M. Pride.

USS Belleau Wood joined the Navy’s Pacific Fleet after shakedown. Her first duty in the South Pacific was supporting the occupation of Baker Island on September 1, 1943.  From there, she participated in operations against Tarawa and Wake Island.

As part of Task Force 50, the USS Belleau Wood supported the invasion of the Gilbert Islands from November 19 to December 4.  She then joined Task Force 58 for the assaults on Kwajalein, Majuro, Truk, Saipan, Tinian, Rota, Guam, Palau, Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, Sawar, Wakde, Hollandia, and Ponape.  In June 1944, the aircraft carrier supported the occupation of Saipan and two raids on the Bonin Islands.

The USS Belleau Wood took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.  Her aircraft were responsible for sinking the Japanese carrier for Hiyo.  The battle was a decisive American victory.  From there, she headed to Pearl Harbor for an overhaul before rejoining TF 58 to support the occupation of Guam.

USS Belleau Wood then joined Task Force 38 in the air strikes and occupation of the southern Palaus, including the Philippines, Morotai, Okinawa, Luzon, and Formosa. She took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf at the end of October.

As the USS Belleau Wood patrolled the waters on October 30, she shot down a kamikaze.  The plane fell on her flight deck aft.  The resulting fires set off the ship’s ammunition. The incident resulted in 92 men dead or missing.  She headed to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard for repairs and overhaul in November.

When USS Belleau Wood returned, she joined TF 58 for the assaults on Honshu and Nansei Shoto.  She supported the troop landings at Iwo Jima before joining the 5th Fleet and 3rd Fleet attacks on the Japanese home islands.  One of her pilots shot down the last Japanese aircraft of the war.

Aircraft from the USS Belleau Wood flew over Tokyo for the surrender ceremony.  The carrier stayed in Japanese waters until October 13, 1945.  She took part in Operation Magic Carpet, bringing American troops home from Guam and Saipan until January 1946.

The USS Belleau Wood was decommissioned on January 13, 1947.  She earned 12 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation for her service in World War II.  She was transferred to France on September 5, 1953 under the Mutual Defense Act.

USS Belleau Wood served with the French Navy under the name Bois Belleau until 1960.  She headed to French Indochina. Although she’d missed the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, her fighters and bombers were put to good use until the Geneva Conference.  She returned to France before joining the Algerian War.

When the USS Belleau Wood returned to the United States, she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on October 1, 1960.  She was then sold for scrap.

Like virtually every other ship of the World War II era, the USS Belleau Wood was built using asbestos-containing materials.  Asbestos was known for its resistance to water, heat, fire, and corrosion, so it was used in nearly every area of the ship.  Anyone who served on the carrier or was involved in her repair and overhaul was put at risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses like lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, a rare but fatal form of cancer that affects the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.

USS Belleau Wood workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma.  Anyone who worked on or around the USS Belleau Wood, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights

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