U.S.S. Boxer LPH-4
U.S.S. Boxer was one of the 24 ship Essex class aircraft carriers built for service during the Second World War. Converted to a helicopter carrier in the nineteen-sixties, Boxer served 24 years, providing critical support during the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam conflict. Boxer was the first US Navy vessel to be equipped with jet aircraft.
Boxer was laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company in 1943, and commissioned into service on April 16, 1945. Named for a British ship taken as a prize during the War of 1812, Boxer arrived in the Pacific too late to see action during against the Japanese. During the ensuing five years Boxer served in the Pacific, conducting peacetime patrols and aviation training, including the first launch of a jet aircraft from a carrier on March 10, 1948.
The onset of the Korean War found Boxer in San Diego, awaiting a badly needed maintenance overhaul. The necessities of war required cancellation of maintenance down time and Boxer was dispatched to the war zone, ferrying badly needed aircraft and spare parts to the Korean peninsula. Boxer’s crossed the Pacific in what was then a record time of eight days and seven hours.
Boxer would perform three tours of duty during the Korean conflict, including participating in the invasion at Inchon. The primary role of her air groups was close support of ground troops, strategic bombing of targets in North Korea, and fighter support. Plagued by propulsion problems, (a consequence of her cancelled maintenance) Boxer nonetheless remained on station for a significant portion of the war. In August 1952 she was severely damaged by a fire which broke out while flight operations were being conducted. After emergency repairs in Yokosuka, followed by more extensive repairs in San Francisco, Boxer returned to the Korean peninsula, conducting flight operations up to the end of the conflict. Boxer was awarded eight Battle Stars for her service during the Korean War.
Boxer was re-designated as an anti-submarine platform in 1956 (becoming CVS-21) and finally as a helicopter assault carrier (LPH-4) in 1958. She remained in the Pacific conducting routine peacetime operations and training until late 1959, when she was transferred to the Caribbean. She participated in humanitarian relief missions to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, cruised in the Mediterranean, and supported the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile crisis. In 1965 she transported troops and aircraft to Vietnam. Over two hundred helicopters of the US Army’s First Air Cavalry division were embarked. A second mission to Vietnam occurred the following year, again transporting troops and supplies, but Boxer did not participate in active combat operations.
Boxer recovered the unmanned test vehicle for the first Apollo space mission, designated AS-201. After twenty-five years of service the ship was decommissioned in late 1969. In 1971 she was broken up and scrapped at Kearny, New Jersey.
Boxer was built at a time when the demand for fighting ships overwhelmed any other considerations. Although the hazards of asbestos exposure were well known at the time, the lessons of the Pacific war demanded that ships be resistant to fire. Like all Naval vessels of the time, Boxer’s engineering and propulsion spaces included extensive insulation, particularly of piping systems, which contained asbestos. Both the hangar deck, and flight deck, where weapons and fuel were handled on a daily basis, required the ability to contain fires quickly. Asbestos was present even in the fire resistant suits issued to damage control parties.
The necessity to limit and control the spread of fires did not except the living spaces, pipe insulation, false ceilings, deck tiles and fire curtains all contained asbestos. It is unknown how much asbestos fiber was released into the air by the vibrations of the ship as it traveled at speed or during flight operations.
Boxer’s twenty-five year service life preceded serious asbestos abatement operations.