Description: History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Enterprise (CVN-65), nicknamed “The Big E” like her predecessor from World War II, was ordered for the U.S. Navy on November 15, 1957. Her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on February 4, 1958. She was launched on September 24, 1960 and commissioned on November 25, 1961 under the command of Captain Vincent P. de Poix.
USS Enterprise was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. She remains the world’s longest naval vessel and the oldest active vessel in the U.S. Navy still under commission as of 2009, with the exception of the ceremonial commissioning of the USS Constitution.
The USS Enterprise spent her early career involved in testing and training exercises. She served as the tracking and measuring station for John Glenn’s Project Mercury space flight in February 1962. Later that year in August, she sailed to the Mediterranean with the Sixth Fleet, returning home to Norfolk in October.
Shortly after her return, the USS Enterprise was ordered to Cuba. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy ordered the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise, USS Independence, USS Essex, and USS Randolph to support the blockade against Cuba. The crisis was averted by October 28, 1962.
The following years would see more testing and training for the USS Enterprise. She was deployed to the Mediterranean several times, including participation in Operation Sea Orbit, the U.S. Navy’s all-nuclear-powered unit that sailed around the world. She headed to Newport News for overhaul and refueling in October 1964.
USS Enterprise was transferred to the Pacific Seventh Fleet in November 1965. The following month, she was launched her aircraft against the Viet Cong at Bien Hoa, the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat. She launched 125 sorties on December 2 before setting a record of 165 strike sorties in one day on December 3.
When North Korean forces captured the USS Pueblo in January 1968, the USS Enterprise was ordered into South Korean waters for nearly a month. On January 14, 1969, one of the carrier’s MK-32 Zuni rocket warheads overheated and detonated, setting off a series of fires and other explosions. Althoguh the fire was brought under control quickly, 27 men were killed, 314 others were injured, and 15 aircraft were destroyed. She headed to Pearl Harbor for repairs, returning to the Gulf of Tonkin in March.
North Korea shot down an unarmed EC-121 Constellation on April 14, 1969, killing its entire 31-man crew, and USS Enterprise joined Task Force 71 to protect flights over the East Korea Sea. She returned to Newport News for refitting and overhaul later that year, including newly-designed reactor cores that would power her for the next 10 years.
The USS Enterprise headed back to Vietnam in early 1971. She rode out three typhoons in July before resuming strikes against North Vietnamese targets and in support of American helicopter operations. The carrier operated out of Yankee Station from August to November 1971.
In December, USS Enterprise headed to the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh Liberation War. She returned to Yankee Station in May 1972, where she remained during the halt on bombing above the 20th parallel in North Vietnam.
When the United States resumed bombing on December 18, 1972, the USS Enterprise participated in Operation Linebacker II, conducting air strikes and reseeding mine fields in Haiphong Harbor. The Vietnamese cease-fire was announced in January 1973, so her aircraft flew their combat sorties over Laos.
USS Enterprise headed back to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for refitting after the cease-fire. She was now able to support the new F-14 Tomcat aircraft. She became the first aircraft carrier to deploy the F-14s when she was deployed to the western Pacific in September 1974.
Typhoon Gervaise struck Mauritius in February 1975. The USS Enterprise headed there for disaster relief. Her crew spent over 10,000 man-hours clearing roads and debris, restoring utilities, and providing food, drinkable water, helicopter, and medical support to the area.
The USS Enterprise returned to Vietnam in April 1975 as part of Operation Frequent Wind. The North Vietnamese had violated the Paris Peace Accords by invading South Vietnam. Operation Frequent Wind helped evacuate American citizens from Saigon before it fell to the North Vietnamese.
In February 1977, USS Enterprise was ordered to the east African coast when American citizens were taken hostage in Uganda. She and several other ships remained there for a week in preparation for a possible rescue mission, but the hostages were eventually released.
USS Enterprise went in to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in January 1979 for a comprehensive 30-month overhaul. Several years later in April 1983, she ran aground on a sand bar in San Francisco Bay. She was hosting special guest George Takei at the time, who played Mr. Sulu on the fictional starship USS Enterprise from the television series Star Trek.
The USS Enterprise became the first nuclear-powered carrier to travel the Suez Canal on April 28, 1986. She relieved the USS Coral Sea off the coast of Libya, her first time in the Mediterranean in over 22 years.
Operation Earnest Will began in April 1988, when the USS Enterprise helped escort reflagged Oil tankers from Kuwait through the Persian Gulf. She then launched air strikes against Iranian targets as part of Operation Praying Mantis, which began when the USS Samuel B. Roberts hit an Iranian mine in international waters.
USS Enterprise took part in Operation Classic Resolve in December 1989 when President George H.W. Bush provided air support to Philippine President Corazon Aquino during an attempt at a rebel coup. She remained outside Manila Bay until tensions resolved before heading to the Indian Ocean for her scheduled deployment.
The USS Enterprise finished her around-the-world deployment when she returned to Norfolk in March 1990. She then moved on to Newport News for the largest complex overhaul refit the U.S. Navy ever attempted. She was extended from 1,101 feet to 1,123 feet in length and underwent other refits to extend her service life.
In June 1996, USS Enterprise headed out for her 15th deployment overseas. She helped enforce no-fly zones over Bosnia in Operation Joint Endeavor and over Iraq in Operation Southern Watch. She returned to Newport News in February 1997.
During night qualifications on November 8, 1998, an EA-6B crashed into an S-3 Viking on her flight deck. Crews from both aircraft ejected before the crash; three members of the Prowler crew were lost at sea, the remains of the fourth were recovered, and the two crewmen from the Viking were taken to the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia to treat their injuries.
Later that month, the USS Enterprise was visited by former President George H.W. Bush and the crew was treated to a live concert by Hootie and the Blowfish while on a port call in the Persian Gulf. Operation Desert Fox began the following month, when the carrier launched air strikes at Iraqi military targets.
Since then, USS Enterprise has been deployed around the world. She has participated in testing and training exercises. The carrier launched air strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan for three weeks in October 2001 before returning home. She has supported Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, including the Summer Surge of 2004.
The USS Enterprise will remain in commission until 2012 or 2014, depending on the state of the fuel in her nuclear reactors. She has appeared in several Hollywood movies, including Top Gun and The Hunt for Red October.
Like virtually all other ships built before the 1970s and 1980s, USS Enterprise was constructed using a number of asbestos-containing components. Asbestos was known for its fireproofing abilities and its resistance to water, heat, and corrosion, so it could be found in nearly all areas of the ship and the aircraft she carried. Anyone who has served on or around the USS Enterprise is at risk for developing life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses like lung cancer and mesothelioma.
USS Enterprise 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 Enterprise, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.
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