The USS Niagara Falls was assembled by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, California, beginning May 22, 1965. The following year on March 26, the ship was dispatched to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in and received her commission on April 29, 1967, with Captain Horace C. Holley at the helm.
The Niagara Falls is a combat store ship and is the only U.S. naval vessel to garner its name from the City of Niagara Falls, New York. As a Mars-class ship, the Niagara Falls was strategically designed to service carrier task force groups at sea through the delivery of refrigerated stores, dry goods, munitions, and general provisions. The ship’s agile configuration enabled turnkey operations utilizing minimum personnel and modern transfer-at-sea methods, and streamline efficiencies in cargo handling, storage, and automation.
Service in Vietnam
The Niagara Falls was loaded with 2,500 tons of stores at the Naval Supply Center in Oakland, California, and concluded final readiness trials and post-shakedown availability at San Diego. On March 28, 1968, the Niagara Falls was formally deployed to the Western Pacific and arrived at Subic Bay in the Philippines on April 14, where she carried out the first of several replenishment duties. From there, she steamed on to An Thoi, South Vietnam, where she delivered over 100 tons of supplies and went on to service amphibious naval units in Vung Tau. The stores ship completed her initial deployment duties on September 15, 1968 and returned to Vietnam in 1972.
Convicted spy John Anthony Walker, Jr., served on the Niagara Falls as a Classified Materials System Custodian during this time. Walker had access to the ship’s radio room and a number of cryptographic machines. He succeeded in handing over several keys to these devices to the Soviet KGB.
From 1983 to 1994, the Niagara Falls moved her homeport to Guam and served in the Iran-Iraq War and the first Gulf War in Operation Desert Storm. Notably, the Niagara Falls was one of the first non-depot ships to be deployed with female crew members, beginning with Lt-Cmdr. Carol Rengstorff who served as the ship’s Executive Officer.
The Niagara Falls was decommissioned in September 1994 and re-assigned to the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force. In mid-2008, Niagara Falls carried out her last support operation and was formally deactivated at Pearl Harbor in September.
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.