USS Harry E. Yarnell is a Leahy-class guided missile cruiser, named in honor of Admiral Harry Edwin Yarnell, who served in the Navy for a 50 year period spanning the Spanish American War through World War II. Constructed by the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, it was launched in late 1961, sponsored by the late Admiral’s widow. Captain Charles E. Nelson was in command when the USS Harry E. Yarnell was commissioned in 1963 at the Boston Naval Shipyard. Among its weapons and radar system features were the harpoon anti-ship missiles and two phalanx chain gun close-in anti-aircraft weapons.
Service in the Atlantic
As part of its shakedown cruise in 1963, the Harry E. Yarnell became part of a large fleet of search ships looking for the USS Thresher, a submarine which had gone missing in 8,000 feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean. The Harry E. Yarnell was able to discover some debris amid a large oil slick, possibly all that remained of the Thresher.
From its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, the Harry E. Yarnell was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet with deployment following in and around the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Starting in the fall of 1964, it participated in NATO anti-submarine warfare exercises in waters above the Arctic Circle, followed by an assignment with the 6th Fleet in much warmer Mediterranean waters prior to returning to home port in 1965.
Twice in its career the Harry E. Yarnell was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E” for outstanding combat preparedness. During the US Embassy in Tehran’s hostage crisis, in which militants took American citizens hostage, the ship operated near the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean until March of 1981, several months following the hostages’ release.
The Yarnell received a Meritorious Unit Commendation for its performance between November 1983 and April 1984 while deployed off Lebanon as part of an international peace-keeping force. Two Joint Unit Citations were awarded in 1991 and 1992.
Decommissioned in October of 1993, the Harry E. Yarnell was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Initially sold for scrapping in Rhode Island in 1995, its hulk was eventually returned to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, with scrapping completed in the spring of 2002.
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.