The USS Guam (LPH-9), an Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship, was built by the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and launched August 22, 1964. She was commissioned January 16, 1965, her commanding officer Captain N. E. Thurmon.
Service in the Atlantic and Caribbean
The Guam joined the Atlantic Fleet on April 21. Sailing for Hampton Roads from Norfolk, she arrived the following day, training along the Virginia Capes and receiving additional training off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Returning to Norfolk on for amphibious training, she then sailed for the Caribbean on November 29, participating in ASW exercises in transit. The Guam joined the Amphibious Ready Squadron December 10 as flagship of Amphibious Squadron 12. During February of 1965, the Guam was assigned to patrol off the Dominican Republic, participating in readiness exercises until returning to Philadelphia in June.
On August 2, 1966, the Guam was assigned to the recovery team for the Gemini 11 space program as the lead vessel. She retrieved Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon, the astronauts from the Gemini flight, 710 miles east of Cape Kennedy. She was then assigned to the Caribbean Amphibious Ready Group and Amphibious Squadron 8 as the flagship.
In mid-1971, the Guam was selected as a test vessel for the Sea Control Ship concept of Admiral Elmo Zumwalts, involving the use of ASW helicopters and STOVL fighters to free supercarriers from convoy duty during possible battle scenarios. Extensive testing began on January 18, 1972, and then the Guam was assigned as sea control ship in 1974, carrying Sea King ASW Helicopters and Marine Corps AV-8A Harriers for testing on the Atlantic. On July 1, 1974, with testing complete, the Guam returned to amphibious assault duty where she remained for the next several years, assisting in several rescues at sea.
Action in the Middle East
Assigned to Amphibious Squadron Four as lead ship, in October 1983 the Guam took part in the invasion at Grenada. She then sailed for Beirut, assigned to a multinational force in peacekeeping operations during the Lebanese civil war. Once her duty there was complete, she returned to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1985 for extensive overhaul, adding two Phalanx CIWS. Later in 1985, damaged in a tropical storm on the Mediterranean, she sailed to Marseille, France, for repairs. August 1990 saw Guam sailing to the Persian Gulf for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In January 1991 she headed to Somalia for Operation Eastern Exit.
The USS Guam continued duties in the Atlantic until she was decommissioned and struck from the Navy Register on August 25, 1998. Three years later, she was purposefully sunk as a target by the John F. Kennedy Battle Group.
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 in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.