Constructed by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia, the USS Charleston was commissioned on December 14, 1968. As the lead Charleston-class amphibious cargo vessel, the USS Charleston LKA-113 gave the Navy a floating base for resupply missions and assaults. In addition, this class of amphibious cargo ships also possessed helicopter landing pads, making it even more valuable.
Service in the Vietnam War
The Charleston was quickly sent to Vietnam to support the war effort after a brief shakedown and training cruise in the Atlantic and its assignment to the Pacific Fleet. Although she arrived to the conflict late, the Charleston participated in the Vietnamese Counteroffensive, which took place in April 1971.
After the War
The USS Charleston was decommissioned and placed in the Naval Reserve Fleet in the early 1980s, although it was quickly recommissioned later. Before being recommissioned, the Charleston underwent an internal systems overhaul. Although these improvements contributed to the ship’s effectiveness as a naval vessel, they also likely exposed asbestos fibers, likely infecting the crew who returned to operate on the vessel.
The Charleston was deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1990, fulfilling a resupply role during Operation Desert Storm. After her tour of the Persian Gulf ended, the Charleston returned to the U.S. for decommissioning, arriving at Portsmouth, Virginia in 1992. She also underwent a pre-inactivation overhaul before being decommissioned, which removed much of the ship’s nonessential equipment. After that overhaul, the Charleston was finally decommissioned on April 27, 1992, getting placed in the Naval Reserve Fleet, remaining there today.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, cargo ships also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.