Description: History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Constellation (CV-64), nicknamed “Connie,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy on July 1, 1956. Her keel was laid down at Brooklyn Navy Yard on September 14, 1957. She was launched on October 8, 1960 and commissioned on October 27, 1961 under the command of T.J. Walker. She was the last U.S. aircraft carrier to be built anywhere other than Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.
USS Constellation participated in training exercises and trials until she joined the Seventh Fleet for deployment to the Western Pacific from February to September 1963. Her second deployment brought her to the Gulf of Tonkin on June 8, 1964, where Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 carried out armed photo reconnaissance missions over Laos. She headed to Subic Bay for upkeep and to Hong Kong for a port visit at the end of July, but she was called back to the Gulf of Tonkin following the Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 2, when the destroyer USS Maddox engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The USS Constellation provided air support for U.S. destroyers and carried out air strikes against North Vietnamese targets. One pilot was killed in action (KIA), and another was taken as a prisoner of war (POW). The carrier and CVW-14 were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation, and she returned to San Diego on February 5, 1965.
After a period of repair and overhaul, the USS Constellation headed back to Vietnam in May 1966. Her aircraft hit North Vietnamese targets for 111 days on station. Her first MiG kill of the war was on July 13, 1966. By the time she headed back to San Diego in December, the carrier had lost 15 aircraft and 16 air crewmen. She and CFW-14 received another Navy Unit Commendation for this deployment.
The USS Constellation was deployed again to Vietnam in April 1967. She operated first at Dixie Station before moving north to Yankee Station. She spent 121 days on the line, making four MiG kills. When she returned to the United States in December, she had lost 16 aircraft and 20 personnel, which included 7 KIAs and 8 POWs. She and CFW-14 received another Navy Unit Commendation for this deployment.
When USS Constellation returned again to Vietnam, a presidential order restricted her to air strikes below the 20th parallel of North Vietnam. She spent 128 days on the line before strikes were called to a halt. Her aircraft flew over 11,000 combat and support missions and dropped nearly 20,000 tons of ordnance. By the time she returned home in January 1969, she’d lost 15 aircraft. Six men had died, five of whom were KIAs, and three were taken as POWs.
USS Constellation headed to Vietnam for her fifth combat deployment in August 1969. She supported air strikes in South Vietnam and Laos for 20 days before heading to Defender Station in the Sea of Japan. When she returned to Yankee Station on November 1, she conducted her 100,000th arrested landing. She downed a MiG on March 28, 1970. After 128 days on the line, she headed home in May. She had lost seven aircraft and had one man taken as a POW, but no men had died.
The USS Constellation spent the next nine months being overhauled. When she was redeployed, she was now accompanied by CVW-9 instead of CVW-14. She left San Diego on October 1, 1971, conducting air strikes against logistic targets in Laos and reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam for several months. Her aircraft scored a MiG kill on January 19, 1972, the first by a Navy aircraft since the carrier’s kill on her previous deployment. Her tour of duty was extended due to the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive on March 30, 1972.
Supporting the American ground troops, USS Constellation carried out a more intensive series of air strikes against North Vietnamese targets. One of her aircrew teams, Cunningham and Driscoll, down a MiG on May 8 before scoring three more MiG kills on May 10. The team became the first aces of the Vietnam War. Her aircraft shot down four more MiGs on May 10, for a total of seven kills in one day. After 154 days on the line, the USS Constellation sailed for home on July 1. She lost seven aircraft and four men, two KIAs and two POWs. The USS Constellation and CVW-9 were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
In late 1972, black crew members on the USS Constellation protested perceived disparate treatment when five black sailors were given administrative discharges and another 250 men were going to receive early discharges, which were rumored to be less than honorable. On November 1, a group of black sailors assaulted a white mess cook and broke his jaw. The captain held an open meeting on November 3 to explain that he was not going to dishonorably discharge 250 black sailors, that early discharges were necessary because the ship could not accommodate so many men, but before the meeting took place, 50 black sailors decided to conduct a sit-in. When the meeting was to take place, 60 black sailors took over the meeting, refused to leave the mess deck, and threatened to “tear up the ship.” The following day, the carrier offloaded 130 men in San Diego, 12 of whom were white; only eight of them boarded the ship when it returned several days later. The men who remained were transferred to shore stations for mast; 12 of them received general discharges, 35 received honorable discharges but were not recommended for reenlistment, and 73 received punishments that varied from warnings to loss of pay and reduction in rate.
The USS Constellation was redeployed to Southeast Asia in January 1973. The aircraft from CVW-9 launched air strikes at targets in Laos until the cease-fire was called on February 21. The carrier had been on duty at the beginning and end of combat operations in Vietnam. Her aircraft supported mine-clearing operations in North Vietnam until she returned to the United Sates in October.
After repair work and overhauls were complete in June 1974, USS Constellation sailed for her first peacetime deployment in 10 years. She returned to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard two days before Christmas, where she underwent 14 months of overhaul and upgrades. She was designated as CV-64 on June 30, 1975.
USS Constellation went on to support operations during the crisis in Yemen in 1979 and the Iranian hostage crisis. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan boarded the carrier and proclaimed her “America’s Flagship.” She would undergo more overhauls and upgrades that allowed her to operate some of the military’s newest aircraft. The carrier earned the Pacific Fleet Battle Efficiency E in 1987 before supporting Operation Earnest Will in the Persian Gulf. This operation earned her the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
During carrier qualifications on August 2, 1988, the USS Constellation experienced a fuel leak that sparked a conflagration and a series of explosions. The crew got the fires under control once, but they reflashed, and the carrier had to pull back into North Island for repairs.
After more overhauls and upgrades, USS Constellation was involved in a number of training exercises. She supported Operation Southern Watch to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq in 1995. She headed to Korea in 1999, but then proceeded to the Persian Gulf to launch air strikes against Iraqi targets. She earned the Battle Efficiency E for her operations in 1999.
The USS Constellation returned to the Persian Gulf in spring 2001. Her final deployment took place at the end of 2002, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She sailed home for the last time in April 2003.
USS Constellation was decommissioned on August 7, 2003. She was removed from the Naval Vessel Register on December 2, 2003 and remains a member of the reserve fleet. The carrier has appeared in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor and in the video game Army of Two.
Like nearly all other ships built before the 1970s and 1980s, the USS Constellation was constructed using asbestos-containing components. Anyone who served aboard the aircraft carrier or participated in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
USS Constellation 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 Constellation, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.
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