Construction on the USS Vancouver was started on November 19, 1960, at the New York Naval Shipyard. She was launched on September 15, 1962, and commissioned on May 11, 1963, with Captain Thomas C. Harbert, Jr. commanding. After training in the Atlantic, she passed through the Panama Canal on August 20 and arrived in San Diego, California, on August 31.
She trained in San Diego for 7 weeks before hosting Secretary of the Navy Paul Nitze in a demonstration of amphibious operations. After taking part in three more exercises, the ship sailed across the Pacific to join the 7th Fleet in November 1964.
Service in Vietnam
By February 1965, she had made several voyages transporting troops and gear. On February 8, with crew from the Ninth Marine Expeditionary Brigade, she sailed to Da Nang, South Vietnam. On March 8, she disembarked the Marines. She delivered more Marines to Hue on April 11. Afterward, she sailed back to San Diego and arrived on June 8.
Her next deployment was as a component of the 7th Fleet Amphibious Ready Group, Task Group 76.5. Her cargo consisted of Special Landing Force Marines, their supporting units, and their craft. She became a floating base for the Marines. Her first combat came in August 1965 as part of Operation Deckhouse III. She landed Marines east of Saigon and participated in Operation Deckhouse IV, V, and VI, as well. April 1967 saw her return to San Diego.
On February 1, 1968, she left San Diego for Vietnam and the 7th Fleet. By February 27, she was again part of Task Group 76.5. This time she took part in operations Swift Sabre, Eager Yankee, Houston IV, and Swift Play. She returned to San Diego in February 1969 but later returned to Vietnam to participate in Operation Defiant Stand. Afterward, she assisted in the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Her penultimate trip to Vietnam took place in spring 1973, at which time she supported mine-clearing operations. Her last trip supported the evacuations of Saigon and Phnom Penh in Cambodia in 1975.
After the War
In summer 1977, she returned to San Diego for an overhaul, and when refurbishments were completed the next year, she once again sailed to the Western Pacific with the 7th Fleet. Records of the ship’s next decade are thin, but she was decommissioned in 1992 and mothballed. Her name was struck from the naval list in 1997, and she remains with the National Reserve Defense Fleet. She earned 11 battle stars for her service in Vietnam.
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 to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.