Description: History of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV-59) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Forrestal was ordered for the U.S. Navy on July 12, 1951. Her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on July 14, 1952. She was launched on December 11, 1954 and commissioned on October 1, 1955 under the command of Captain R. L. Johnson.
USS Forrestal spent her early years training aviators off Virginia and in the Caribbean. She sailed to the eastern Atlantic on November 7, 1956 during the Suez Crisis, where she remained ready to enter the Mediterranean if she was needed. Her first deployment began on January 15, 1957, when she sailed to the Mediterranean with the Sixth Fleet.
The USS Forrestal participated in a number of training operations, fleet exercises, and diplomatic cruises for the next few years. She took part in the NATO Operation Strikeback in the fall of 1957. The aircraft carrier served as back up for Mediterranean forces during the Lebanon Crisis in the summer of 1958.
After a brief stay at Mayport, USS Forrestal headed off to her second Mediterranean tour of duty on September 2, 1958. She continued participating in training exercises and patrols during this time. The carrier also served in a ceremonial capacity, receiving foreign dignitaries like King Hussein of Jordan.
In November 1963, the USS Forrestal made history with a C-130 Hercules, setting a record for the largest and heaviest airplane to land on a Navy carrier. Lieutenant Flatley earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts in Carrier Onboard Delivery operations.
USS Forrestal headed to Vietnam in July 1967. She carried Attack Carrier Air Wing 17 with her, and the planes conducted strikes against North Vietnamese targets for four days. On July 29, a Zuni rocket misfired and caused a conflagration that killed 134 men, injured 161 others, and destroyed 21 aircraft.
The USS Forrestal spent seven deployments to the Mediterranean between 1968 and 1975; the time was not without its losses. During an aircraft recovery accident in October 1968, three of her aircrewmen were lost at sea. A crew member set fire to the computer room on July 10, 1972, resulting in $7 million in damage to the ship. She spent three months at Portsmouth for repairs.
In July 1974, USS Forrestal helped to evacuate American citizens from Cyprus due to increased tensions in the area. The carrier provided air cover while the Navy and Marines evacuated 466 people in five hours, 384 of whom were U.S. citizens.
USS Forrestal was reclassified as a Multipurpose Aircraft Carrier, CV-59 on June 30, 1975. President Gerald Ford came aboard on July 4, 1976 for the International Naval Review and to ring in the Bicentennial.
The USS Forrestal participated in explosives testing before heading to Norfolk for overhaul in September 1977. As she sailed for training and evaluation on January 15, 1978, a plane crashed into her flight deck. Two deck crewmen were killed and 10 others were injured. A fire broke out onboard the USS Forrestal on April 8, 1978 in the Number Three Main Machinery Room. Three days later, another fire broke out, this time in a catapult steam trunk. A flood ruined fresh milk and produce in the food storage rooms on May 10. Two more air crashes occurred in June, killing one pilot and injuring another.
In September, USS Forrestal took part in the NATO Operation Northern Wedding. She then moved on to participate in another NATO exercise, Operation Display Determination. The carrier continued training operations until heading back to Mayport for overhaul on November 13, 1978.
USS Forrestal was deployed several more times into the 1980s. She served in readiness during the Syria/Israel missile crisis and shot down two Libyan aircraft when they fired upon U.S. aircraft over international waters. The carrier sailed to the Arctic Circle for NATO’s Ocean Venture of 1981.
After heading back to the United States for repairs, the USS Forrestal headed back to the Mediterranean on June 8, 1982 to support the Lebanon Contingency Force. In September, she sailed through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean to join the Seventh Fleet. She then headed to Philadelphia via Mayport to take part in the Service Life Extension Program on January 18, 1983, where she remained until May 20, 1985.
The USS Forrestal took part in Operation Sea Wind and Display Determination in 1986. In 1987, she headed to the North Atlantic for Ocean Safari 1987. On April 25, 1988, the aircraft carrier headed to the North Arabian Sea to support Operation Earnest Will. When she returned from this deployment on October 7, she received a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
USS Forrestal took part in Fleet Week in New York City in May 1989. That year, she won the Atlantic Fleet’s Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award. Her next deployment was delayed by damage from another fire on board that injured 11 sailors.
The end of 1989 brought more exercises and training activities. The USS Forrestal provided support to President George H.W. Bush during the Malta Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. The carrier may have been involved in Operation Pokeweed in 1990, when SEAL Team Six apprehended the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
The USS Forrestal was supposed to be deployed during Operation Desert Storm, but her orders were canceled. Her final deployment began on May 30, 1991, where she supported Operation Provide Comfort.
USS Forrestal was redesignated AVT-59 on February 4, 1992. She underwent a 14-month overhaul before being decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on September 11, 1993. The ship has been designated for sinking as an artificial reef.
Like other ships built before the 1970s and 1980s, the USS Forrestal was constructed using a number of asbestos-containing components. Asbestos was used in nearly every area of the ship, as well as in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served on or around the aircraft carrier is at risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma.
USS Forrestal 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 Forrestal, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.
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