Asbestos in the military

USS California BB-44

USS California BB-44Description:  History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS California (BB-44) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS California (BB-44) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on December 28, 1915.  Her keel was laid down at Mare Island Navy yard on October 25, 1916.  She was launched on November 20, 1919 and commissioned on August 10, 1921 under the command of Captain H.J. Ziegemeier.

USS California began as the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, then as flagship of the United States Battle Force or Battle Fleet.  She participated in joint exercises with the Army and Navy, tactical and organizational development problems, and fleet concentrations.  She won several awards during this time: the Battle Efficiency Pennant for 1921 and 1922, and the Gunnery “E” for 1925 and 1926.

The USS California led the Battle Fleet on a cruise of good will to Australia and New Zealand in 1925.  She participated in several Presidential reviews in 1927, 1930, and 1934.

The battleship was modernized in late 1929 and early 1930.  She was stationed in San Pedro, California from the mid to late 1930s, and made it to the World’s Fair in New York City in 1939.

USS California competed for the “Iron Man Trophy,” the Navy Department General Excellency Trophy for Capital Ships of the Pacific, and she won in 1925. She retained the title for three years.  Her sailors competed in football, baseball, boxing, rowing, wrestling, basketball, and other sports as part of the trophy competition.  The battleship won the Iron Man trophy for the last time in 1939, after which many of the Capital Ships were reassigned to Hawaii due to concerns about relations with Japan.

The USS California was moored at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese began their assault on December 7, 1941.  She withstood the detonation of two torpedoes before a 250-kg bomb exploded on the armored second deck and killed about 50 men.  The battleship was damaged by another bomb that ruptured her bow plates.  Smoke from the resulting fired led to evacuation of the ship, and she sank to the mud after three days of progressive flooding.  One hundred crew members died and 62 were wounded in the attacks.  Robert R. Scott was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

On March 25, 1942, the USS California was raised from the sea floor and dry docked for repairs at Pearl Harbor.  Several months later, she was able to sail to Puget Sound Navy Yard for reconstruction and refitting.  She was practically a new ship built out of the remains of the old.

In May 1944, USS California participated in the invasion of the Marianas.  She was hit by a shell off the coast of Saipan on June 14, killing one man and injuring nine.  Over the next few months, she was involved in operations at Guam, Tinian, Manus, Leyte, and the Battle of Surigao Strait.

The USS California was bombarding the shore at Lingayen Gulf on January 6, 1945 when she was hit by a kamikaze plane, killing 44 men and injuring 155.  Temporary repairs were made, and the battleship remained until the mission was completed.  She arrived at Puget Sound Navy Yard for permanent repairs on February 15.

After repairs, USS California returned to battle at Okinawa and the East China Sea.  She was decommissioned on February 14, 1947 and sold for scrap on July 10, 1959.

Like other U.S. Navy ships of its time, the USS California was built with many components that contained the toxic substance asbestos.  Asbestos was known for its fireproofing properties and its resistance to heat, water, and corrosion.  Anyone who worked in or around the battleship was exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, which can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer. Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that attacks the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.

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

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