Asbestos in the military

USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31)

USS Bon Homme Richard, Image courtesy of Bill Larkins
USS Bon Homme Richard, Image courtesy of Bill Larkins

Description:  History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31), nicknamed “Bonnie Dick,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy on July 9, 1942. Her keel was laid down at Brooklyn Navy Yard on February 1, 1943.  She was launched on April 29, 1994 and commissioned on November 26, 1944 under the command of Captain A.O. Rule, Jr.

USS Bon Homme Richard joined the Navy’s Pacific Fleet toward the end of World War II.  In June 1945, she joined the fast carriers to participate in the final raids on the Japanese home islands. She continued to operate off the coast of Japan until September.  Under Operation Magic Carpet, she brought American military personnel back home from the war zone until 1946. She was decommissioned on January 9, 1947.

When the Korean War broke out, the USS Bon Homme Richard was recommissioned as CV-31 on January 15, 1951 under the command of Captain Cecil B. Gill. She headed to Korea to launch air strikes against North Korean targets.  During her second tour of duty from May to December of 1952, when she participated in the air strikes on Sui-ho Dam and Pyongyang, she was redesignated as CVA-31. She was again decommissioned from May 1953 until September 1955 as she underwent a conversion to equip her for operating high-performance jets.

After she was recommissioned, the USS Bon Homme Richard was deployed a number of times as a member of the 7th Fleet.  She took part in cruises to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean from 1957 until 1964.

When the Vietnam War began, USS Bon Homme Richard found herself involved in her third armed conflict. She was deployed on five combat tours in Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1970. Her planes fought with and downed North Vietnamese MiGs and struck infrastructure and transportation targets.

USS Bon Homme Richard was decommissioned on July 7, 1971.  She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on September 20, 1989 and sold for scrap in March 1992. The aircraft carrier earned one battle star for her service in World War II and five battle stars in the Korean War.

Like virtually all other ships built during the World War II Era, the USS Bon Homme Richard was constructed using many asbestos-containing components. The hazardous material asbestos was a cheap insulator that was prized for its resistance to fire, heat, water, and corrosion. Because of this, it could be found in nearly every area of the ship, including incinerators, gaskets, turbines, engine rooms, boilers, steam pipes, valves, hot water pipes, caulking, pumps, wall insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, rope, and sealants. Asbestos was also used in the construction of the aircraft she carried.  Anyone who served aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard or was involved in her repair and conversion was exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos without respiratory gear or protective clothing. This put them at risk of developing life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, or respiratory cancer.

USS Bon Homme Richard 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 Bon Homme Richard, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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