The USS Frederick (LST-1184) became the sixth Newport Class tank landing ship when it was commissioned in 1970 at Long Beach Naval Shipyard in California. Built at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, she was named after the historic city of Frederick, Maryland, and sponsored by Mrs. Kleber S. Masterson. The ship’s first commander was Commander Robert A. Shaid. The 522-foot, 8,500-ton vessel could attain a speed of 20 knots. She was manned by 14 officers and a crew of 210 enlisted sailors and could transport some 350 troops.
Service in Vietnam and the Gulf War
Assigned to the Amphibious Force of the Pacific Fleet, the Frederick was home-ported in San Diego. Shortly after commissioning, she made the first of more than a dozen major deployments to Asia and the western Pacific Ocean. The Frederick was engaged in withdrawal operations during the Vietnam War and in the 1975 Saigon evacuation. For her operations in Vietnam, the Frederick was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation and earned three battle stars.
Beginning in May 1983, the Frederick visited Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Somalia, and Kenya [L302] while deployed with Commander Amphibious Squadron One. From the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa, she was redeployed to Beirut, Lebanon, where she operated for a month with the Multinational Peace Keeping Force. In October 1983, the Frederick began a return cruise to home port.
In December 1990, the Frederick joined 12 other vessels in an amphibious task force deployed to the Persian Gulf. The Frederick and other ships participated in Operation Desert Shield, preparing for a possible amphibious landing in Kuwait. During the subsequent Operation Desert Storm, the ship was part of a group that carried out a massive mock amphibious invasion in the Persian Gulf. The exercise was crucial to the operation’s success, preventing 15 Iraqi troop divisions from opposing the allied land invasion of Iraq. In addition, the ship took part in an actual amphibious landing–the only one carried out during the Gulf War. The Frederick later participated in relief efforts for Bangladesh and Somalia.
In 1995, the USS Frederick became part of the Naval Reserve Force, with Pearl Harbor as its new home port. She participated in training exercises with the U.S. Marine Corps and Southeast Asian armed forces. The ship was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 2002–the last Newport Class tank landing ship to be taken out of commission. Sold to the Mexican Navy, she was renamed the Usumacinta, and she serves under that name to this day.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some auxiliary vessels also posed 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 to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.