USS Growler SSG-577 (1958-1980)
This Grayback-class submarine was the fourth U.S. Navy ship to share the name of Growler. It was also the second of the Regulus II guided missile submarines, coming out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Sponsored by Mrs. Robert K. Byerts, widow of Comdr. Thomas B. Oakley, Jr., the Growler was launched on April 5, 1958. Comdr. Thomas B. Oakley, Jr. commanded the third Growler on her ninth, tenth and fatal eleventh war patrols. She was commissioned on August 30, 1958 with Lt. Comdr. Charles Priest, Jr., in command.
Following East Coast training exercises, the Growler sailed for her southern shakedown cruise, arriving at the Naval Air Station in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico on February 19, 1959. She then made a brief trip to Portsmouth, returning to the Caribbean in March for training in the launch of the Regulus I and II guided missiles. She then returned to Portsmouth on April 19, passing Fort Lauderdale and New London.
She then served as flagship to Submarine Division 12 after arriving at Pearl Harbor on September 7. There she participated in various battle and torpedo exercises, in addition to missile practice, before beginning her first Regulus Deterrent Mission. This mission lasted from March 12 to May 17, 1960 and involved the submarine’s departure to Hawaii with a full store of Regulus II sea-to-surface missiles armed with nuclear warheads. The vessel patrolled in complete secrecy as a silent warning of the potential power of the United States during the Cold War era.
May 1960 through December 1963 saw the Growler make nine such deterrent patrols, with the fourth ending at Yokosuka, Japan on April 24, 1962. While there, the Navy displayed this new and effective weapon to the Japanese. After returning to Mare Island, California, in May 1964, the Growler was decommissioned on May 25 and placed in reserve. She was then moved to the Inactive Fleet section in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, being struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on August 1, 1980. Although scheduled to act as a torpedo target, on August 8, 1988 she was awarded to Zachary Fisher, Chairman of the Intrepid Sea-Air Space Museum. However, renovations to the Intrepid Sea-Air Space Museum forced the Growler to be towed to Brooklyn for repairs, which cost over $1.5 million. Returning to the complex in February 2009, the Growler was re-opened to the public on May 21, 2009.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines 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. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.