U.S.S. Winnemucca (YTB-785)
Winnemucca was a Natick-class yard tug. She served with the U.S. Navy in the Viet Nam War.
Marinette Marine laid down the tug at Marinette, WI on September 23, 1965. Launched on 23 December, she was commissioned April 5, 1966.
Winnemucca sailed for Norfolk, VA, where she was assigned to the 5th Naval District. She served in this area until 1967, when she was assigned to the rapidly expanding conflict in Viet Nam. The tug arrived “in country” on June 10 and was assigned to Task Force 117 as part of the joint service “Mobile Riverine Force”. Serving mainly out of Nha Be on the Saigon River, Winnemucca made trips up the Mekong as well. During her time in Viet Nam, the tug served alongside her sister Kalispell as a consort of APL-26, the only barracks barge to serve directly with a riverine combat force in Viet Nam. While serving this vessel, both tugs were painted olive drab green, as was APL-26. This change from the usual “haze gray” worn by U.S. Navy ships at the time reflected the trio’s need to operate in harm’s way.
Winnemucca would serve in the Mobile Riverine force for over six years. In that time, she collected several awards for her service. These include two Presidential Unit Citations, four Naval Unit Commendations, and thirteen Campaign Stars. Campaign Stars were awarded to units in the Viet Nam War in lieu of more traditional battle stars, as there were relatively few large, concentrated actions.
At the end of U.S. participation in Viet Nam, Winnemucca was reassigned to the 17th Naval District in Adak, Alaska. After two years in these frigid waters, the tug was reassigned to the 12th Naval District in San Francisco, CA, where she performed her final years of naval service.
It is unclear when Winnemucca was decommissioned, but her name was struck from the Navy List in 1995. She languished in reserve in the San Francisco Bay until January 21, 2004, when she was sold to a towing company. Renamed Noelani, she serves as a commercial tug to this day in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is reported by former Winnemucca sailors that her current owners are aware of her historic stature and intend to keep her afloat and in service as long as possible.
Risk of Asbestos Exposure
The risk of exposure to asbestos from Winnemucca herself is fairly low. As a diesel-powered vessel, she would not have been insulated with the substance as her steam-powered contemporaries were. The tug did, however, encounter many asbestos-contaminated vessels in her service, most notably the barge APL-26. This barge had no propulsion but featured two steam boilers for hot water and water purification. It was required by the Navy to insulate steam plants with asbestos at the time.
Asbestos products break into tiny fibers when damaged or worn, and in this form, it can spread through the air over a wide area. Inhalation of these fibers is a proven cause of mesothelioma, a malignant lung cancer. While there is no cure for mesothelioma, treatments such as chemotherapy are available to fight the disease.
If you or someone you know served aboard Winnemucca or worked on her in a shipyard and has contracted mesothelioma, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page to receive free information regarding your rights to compensation.