U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. DD 850 (Destroyer)

U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy, currently a museum ship in Fall River, MA, was built at the Fore River shipyard owned by Bethlehem Steel and commissioned into the Navy on December 15, 1945. Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of the namesake and of future President John F. Kennedy christened the vessel.

With the Second World War over by the time Kennedy was ready for active service, it was assigned initially to training duties in the Atlantic. On its first cruise, Robert F. Kennedy, the second brother to the ship’s namesake, served aboard as an apprentice seaman.

Until 1950, training and goodwill visits occupied the ship, mostly in the Atlantic. The outbreak of hostilities in the Korean peninsula ended this peacetime routine, with Kennedy being among the first US warships to deploy from the United States for action in those waters. The ship performed the normal role of a destroyer in that conflict, providing plane guard and screening for the carriers and gunfire support for operations ashore, suppressing enemy batteries.

Upon completion of its combat role, Kennedy steamed to the west, returning to the Atlantic by way of Suez and the Mediterranean, circumnavigating the globe. NATO operations in the Atlantic and service with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean occupied the rest of the decade.

Joseph P. Kennedy represented the United States at the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway ceremonies, after which the ship made a liberty stop, and received visitors, in Chicago, IL. Various other ports on the Great Lakes were visited as well. The rarity of seeing a US Naval warship on the Great Lakes ensured large crowds at the ships stops.

In the first half of the 1960s, Joseph P. Kennedy was modernized, actively participated in the Cuban blockade, embarked President John F. Kennedy as a spectator for America’s Cup, and conducted extensive training and fleet exercises. The second half of the decade the ship worked with newly commissioned Polaris submarines, assisting in the missile training at the Atlantic Missile Range and supporting NASA recovery efforts for Gemini spaceflights.

At the end of its final deployment with the Sixth Fleet, Kennedy departed the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, steamed around the south of Africa returned to Newport.

Joseph P. Kennedy was decommissioned and removed from the Naval Register in 1973. Along with the battleship Massachusetts, it is a central attraction there.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy

Asbestos materials could be found on Joseph P. Kennedy in a wide variety of uses and spaces, from the engine rooms to the ships galleys. Because of its superior resistance to fire and its excellent insulating properties, asbestos was a material of choice amongst shipbuilders during the period when Kennedy was built.

Undamaged asbestos is relatively harmless, but when damaged by harsh conditions, the fibers of the product tear, releasing harmful asbestos dust into the atmosphere, The stresses and flexure imposed on a ship by normal operation would cause asbestos materials, particularly the cloth lagging insulating pipes throughout the ship, to become damaged and release dust into the atmosphere, where it would be distributed on clothing and by ventilators.

Virtually no space in the ship would be free of the risk of exposure to asbestos dust. During repair or maintenance operations, shipyards workers, using asbestos materials and equipment, would release the dust into the atmosphere aboard, frequently into unseen crevices, which would not then be distributed until the ordinary vibration of the ship underway would dislodge them.

Joseph P. Kennedy spent its entire service career before serious asbestos abatement was undertaken by either the Navy or it supporting shipyards.

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