The USS Lexington was built in the shipyards at Quincy, Massachusetts and was officially commissioned in December 1927. The massive 33,000-ton aircraft carrier originally began as a battle cruiser, but was soon converted while still under construction. It has the distinction of being one of the U.S Navy’s initial two aircraft carriers that were powerful and swift enough to handle the task of intense fleet operations. It was only during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930’s and the first years of the 1940’s that the navy vessel was an active player in the advancement of aircraft carrier techniques and operational instruction of a generation of Naval Aviators as well as fleet doctrine.
Action in World War II
The USS Lexington was churning through the waters of the Pacific when the Japanese launched the historic attack on Pearl Harbor. She was also in the thick of battle in the U.S. Navy’s initial wartime operation in December of 1941 when they attempted to relieve Wake Island. During the months of February and March of 1942, the aircraft carrier barged through Japanese positions in the southwest Pacific Ocean before shipping back to Pearl Harbor for a short overhaul and the extraction of her eight-inch guns.
It was during early May that the USS Lexington would grace the South Pacific with her presence again, just in time to join forces with the USS Yorktown (CV-5) in a victorious battle launching an attack on the Japanese offensive in the Coral Sea. On the 7th and 8th of May in 1942, the Lexington’s planes aided in the sinking of the small Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho and aided in battles on the massive carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku.
Destruction in the Pacific
In retaliation for her success, she became the main target of Japanese carrier planes and sustained three bomb and two torpedo hits. Repairs were swiftly made, and though the first efforts at damage control seemed to suffice, the aircraft carrier was demolished by great gasoline explosions in the early afternoon on the 8th of May. The flames raced out of control, forcing her crew to abandon ship and leave her to the waters. It was on this day that the USS Lexington became the first carrier to succumb to World War II.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, aircraft carriers 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.