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U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63)

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U.S.S. Missouri BB 63 (Battleship)

The last battleship built by the United States, upon whose decks was signed the instrument of surrender ending the Second World War, U.S.S. Missouri served in that conflict, Korea, and Operation Desert Storm, Still serving today as a museum in Pearl Harbor, HI, Missouri was built by the Brooklyn Navy Yard and commissioned in January 1944.

When initially designed in 1938, naval war planners still envisioned naval battles would be conducted primarily by big gunned ships engaging each other. During its construction events in the Pacific established the superiority of naval aviation over surface ships. The fast battleships’ new role was to escort the carrier groups providing additional anti-aircraft guns, and using its big rifles for shore bombardment prior to amphibious landings.

Modified accordingly during and immediately after its construction, Missouri joined the Pacific fleet in time to take part in operations at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Shore bombardment of the Japanese home islands followed, with Missouri’s big guns destroying steel and ironworks facilities. After the Japanese agreed to surrender Missouri entered Tokyo Bay to play host for the ceremonial signing on August 29. The surrender took place on September 2.

From 1945 through 1950, Missouri operated in the Atlantic. By the latter year, it was the only US battleship in commission. (President Truman refused to allow the Navy to mothball the ship, partly because his daughter had christened it.) At the outset of the Korean conflict, Missouri quickly deployed to the Pacific, arriving in late September to conduct carrier screening operations and shore bombardments. The ship made a second deployment to Korea in 1953, between those tours it operated in the Atlantic providing midshipmen cruises and training operations.

The armistice in Korea allowed the ship to return to Atlantic duty until 1955, when it entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decommissioning and storage at Bremerton, WA.

In 1984, during the Reagan Administration’s expansion of the Navy to 600 ships, Missouri was re-activated and significantly modernized, adding cruise missiles and modern anti-aircraft weapons to the big guns. Missouri fired 28 cruise missiles and over 700 sixteen inch rounds from its guns in support of Operation Desert Storm before combat operations moved beyond their range.

In 1992, operating costs and the lessened threat resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union combined to make continuing operation of the battleship economically unfeasible. The ship was deactivated again and stored in Bremerton until being designated a museum ship. Missouri is now moored in Pearl Harbor, its bow facing the Arizona Memorial.

Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Missouri

In building U.S.S. Missouri the Brooklyn Navy Yard, like all shipbuilders of the time, used asbestos-containing materials extensively, in boilers, gaskets, thermal insulation, pipe insulation, electrical insulation and in fireproofing. It existed in deck tiles, decorative panels in officer’s staterooms, and in flapper valves in the ventilation system, used to prevent fire from spreading through compartments by means of the ventilators. When Missouri was deactivated in 1955 there was no need, nor any determination, to remove any of the asbestos-containing materials.

Upon reactivation in the eighties, some asbestos abatement may have taken place. It was a common practice to wrap modern insulation over that containing asbestos, rather than remove the asbestos-laden material first.

During normal daily operation, the ship vibrated continuously underway. During the firing of the big guns, the concussion would cause the whole ship to tremble violently. The British battleship HMS Rodney reduced itself to an unseaworthy condition from the concussion of firing its own weapons when it engaged in sinking the Bismarck. Asbestos fibers could easily have been released into the air in spaces all over Missouri during similar operations.

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