U.S.S. Lexington CV-16 (Aircraft Carrier)
The Fore River Shipyard of Quincy Massachusetts built U.S.S. Lexington for the US Navy in the early days of World War II, with the ship being commissioned in 1943. Named to commemorate the earlier Lexington, which had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington would serve the US Navy until the 1990s.
Lexington arrived in the Pacific in time to see action in the Gilbert Islands, where the ship was torpedoed at night while operating near Kwajalein. After repairs in Bremerton, Lexington returned to service in time to participate in operations against the Japanese in the central Pacific and the Philippines, its planes being involved in the sinking of three Japanese aircraft carriers and at least two cruisers. Struck by a kamikaze attack, Lexington was reported as sunk by Tokyo, although the ship was repaired at the fleet anchorage in Ulithi.
By May of 1945, the supposedly sunken carrier was launching bombing missions against the Japanese mainland. Following the Japanese surrender, the carrier ferried home servicemen as part of Operation Magic Carpet.
Decommissioned in 1947, Lexington was placed in reserve until 1953, at which time the ship was fully modernized with an angled flight deck and made capable of operating the most modern aircraft from its decks. Re-commissioned in 1955, the ship served with the Pacific fleet for the remainder of the decade.
In 1962, Lexington relieved U.S.S. Antietam as the training carrier in the Gulf of Mexico. Lexington would continue in this role for nearly two decades, operating out of Pensacola Florida. Naval and Marine aviators who served in Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and virtually all naval flight operations in the latter years of the twentieth century received their carrier qualifications on its decks.
Lexington also performed a public relations role for the Navy by appearing in the films Midway and War and Remembrance.
Lexington was decommissioned in 1991. During its career, it received eleven Battle Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. It was donated as a museum ship and is moored in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Lexington
U.S.S. Lexington, built at Fore River, was lined with asbestos and materials containing asbestos as a safeguard against the spread of shipboard fires. Fore River Shipyard used asbestos in hundreds of items destined for the ships which it built.
At the time of Lexington’s construction, boilers which provided the steam to drive ships were lined with asbestos. Gaskets and seals were made of materials containing asbestos. Other uses included brake and clutch linings, drive couplings, deck tiles, overhead tiles, paints and solvents, glues and cements, fire retardant materials, and electrical distribution panels and insulation. Pipe and valve insulation was manufactured from asbestos cloth. Pipes lagged with this insulation ran the length and breadth of the ship. Although painted, deterioration of the paint and the insulation itself released asbestos microfibers into the atmosphere.
Asbestos exposure on a ship of the vintage of U.S.S. Lexington would have been a virtual certainty, especially prior to asbestos abatement efforts which did not begin until the late 1970s. Ships donated and operated as museums have contractors which monitor the moored vessels for exposure risks and take necessary measures to limit those risks, a fact which speaks to the risk involved when the vessel was operational.