The USS Zelima AF-49, a stores ship, laid down at Oakland, California, on December 5, 1944, originally had the name Golden Rocket. Mrs. J. W. Greenslade sponsored the ship on its launching on March 2. Until the War Shipping Administration turned her over to the Navy in the summer of 1946 and the Navy renamed her Zelima, the ship served the United Fruit Company. The Zelima received her commissioning on July 27, 1946.
Service in Korea and Vietnam
For the first four years of operations for the U.S. Navy, the Zelima, with San Francisco as her homeport, made voyages back and forth across the Pacific ferrying supplies and service members. In 1950, with the increased demands of war, she transported cargo and food stuffs to the 7th Fleet in operations off Korea, and to other points around the peninsula.
1953 found Zelima carrying on peacetime duties shuttling cargo to military bases all over the Pacific Ocean. She was near Taiwan with supplies and food for the 7th Fleet when the Communists from China showed force on Chinese-held islands in the Taiwan Strait. She also brought cargo needed during that time on the Taiwan mainland.
The fall of 1963 found her off Vietnam supplying fleet units dealing with guerrilla action there. Then, a year later, she ferried cargo to ships in the Panama Canal, placed there by President Kennedy in his successful attempt to remove Russian missiles from Cuba.
She returned to the waters off Vietnam in the spring of 1963. The Zelima supported the warships gathered to try to stabilize the situation there. She made repeated voyages to the area when, by the later 1960s she was making three and four trips to Vietnam per year carrying supplies to ships and onshore troops. The Zelima spent the rest of her career in service during the Vietnam conflict. Her last voyage to the coast of Vietnam was in June of 1969.
After the War
The USS Zelima received decommissioning in September 1969 at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. In June 1970, she returned to the Maritime Administration for berthing. Still, it was not until the end of 1976 that the Navy struck her name from its list. From the Korean War she received one battle star, but for duties during the Vietnam War, she earned six battle stars.
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.