The USS Forrestal was an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy named after former Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal. She was the lead ship in a class that included two additional aircraft carriers, the USS Saratoga and the USS Ranger. She would be the largest carrier built since World War II and the first to be specifically designed to accommodate jet aircraft. Among other novelties to naval carriers, the Forrestal was the first vessel to be built with an angled flight deck, steam catapult, and landing signal lights. She was launched by the Newport News Shipbuilding Co, of Newport News, Virginia in December of 1954 and was commissioned by the Navy in October of 1955. Her first commander was Captain R.L. Johnson.
Between 1956 and 1962, the Forrestal conducted several training exercises between her homeport of Norfolk, VA and the Caribbean. Because her facilities were so technologically advanced, they required a high level of training for her crew as well as pilots who would land on her deck. Also during this time, she would make voyages to the Mediterranean as to support ongoing operation Lebanon, as well as regional backing during the Suez crisis. In November of 1963, the vessel would make history as the first carrier to receive an at-sea refueling. A C-130 landed on her deck and became the largest plane to ever land on a carrier. While the amount of fuel delivered proved to be small and too risky for standard protocol, the C-130 now rests in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
In July of 1967, the Forrestal departed for the waters off the coast of Vietnam. On July 29th, a jet rocket misfired and hit a fuel tank on the deck of the ship. Fire broke out all over the carrier and burned for hours, causing nearly $72 million in damages to the ship. Following repair, she would leave the Gulf of Tonkin and resume her Mediterranean operations. She would conduct several more critical global operations, including evacuations in Tunisia and Cyprus in the early 1970's.
In all the Forrestal's contributions to the United States Navy are hard to discount. She was technological marvel and a key aspect of maintaining peace following WWII as well as an important aspect of patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin. However unfortunate though, some of her crew was exposed to dangerous toxins at various times during her tenure. The fires aboard the Forrestal demonstrate how important good fireproofing and insulation are aboard naval vessels, and for this purpose asbestos was used. Those who worked in the vicinity of boilers, steam rooms, piping, or electrical fixtures may have been exposed to harmful levels of asbestos, even if the possible exposure was many years ago. It is important these people monitor respiratory symptoms closely and alert a doctor if adverse symptoms arise as they may be a sign of mesothelioma.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.