Named after the state capital of Iowa, the USS Des Moines was the vanguard of a fleet of heavy cruisers in the United States Navy. Launched on September 27, 1946, by the Bethlehem Steel Company, she was built at the Fore River Shipyard and officially commissioned in 1948. One of the first in her class to mount semi-automatic turrets and utility helicopters, USS Des Moines was considered an advanced vessel.
Action in the Mediterranean
In order to maintain readiness, the USS Des Moines cruised from Newport, Rhode Island, and Norfolk, Virginia, to the Caribbean and Mediterranean Sea, performing a variety of military exercises. Serving as the flagship of the 6th Task Fleet, she also carried midshipmen and naval crew to Northern European ports as part of their training. USS Des Moines also participated in NATO exercises from 1952 to 1955. On February 18, 1958, she set course for the Mediterranean as the flagship for the Sixth Fleet.
During her time with the Sixth Fleet, the Des Moines contributed heavily to the success of American interests in Europe, Africa, and the Near East. By performing in NATO exercises, visits to Yugoslavia and other ports in the region, the Des Moines remained a constant presence in the Mediterranean. In addition, she served a critical role in peacekeeping efforts during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Lebanon crisis of 1958. Beyond her military endeavors, film footage of the Des Moines cruising with other ships in the 6th Fleet was used for the conclusion of the 1959 film, John Paul Jones.
In July of 1961, she was placed out of commission and in reserve. Afterward she was stored in the South Boston Naval Annex and subsequently laid up in the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility until 2006. From there an attempt was made to transform USS Des Moines into a museum ship. However, the project eventually failed and she was towed to Brownsville, Texas, for scrapping on September 7, 2006. By July of the following year she had been completely dismantled. However, two of her parts did make it to a museum, as her gun mounts were donated to the USS Lexington museum in Corpus Christi, Texas, where they are currently on display.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, naval cruisers 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.