The USS Essex (CV-9) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on July 3, 1940. Her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on April 28, 1941. She was launched on July 31, 1942 and commissioned on December 31, 1942 under the command of Captain Donald B. Duncan.
USS Essex joined the World War II fighting with Task Force 16 as they attacked Marcus Island on August 31, 1943. She then became the flagship for Task Force 14, striking at Wake Island in October and Rabaul in November. The carrier joined Task Group 50.3 to assist in the troop landings on Tarawa before becoming the flagship for the assault on Kwajalein. Her next amphibious assault was on the Marshall Islands from January to February 1944.
In mid-February, USS Essex supported operations at Truk, during which eight Japanese ships sank. She then moved on to Saipan, Tinian, and Guam before sailing to San Francisco for overhaul. Upon her return to the action, she was the carrier for Air Group 15, also known as the “Fabled Fifteen.”
The USS Essex joined the action for the strikes on Marcus Island and Wake Island in May. Over the summer, she would also strike at the Mariana Islands, the Palau Islands, and Mindanao. She supported the troop landings on Peleliu in September before riding out a typhoon on October 2.
After the typhoon, USS Essex headed to the Ryukyus. She struck at Okinawa and Formosa before covering the landings on Leyte. The carrier was involved in the Battle for Leyte Gulf before heading to Ulithi to be replenished at the end of October.
In November, the USS Essex attacked Manila and the northern Philippines. She was damaged for the first time on November 25, when a kamikaze hit her flight deck where several of her planes were gassed up and ready for takeoff, killing 15 men and injuring 44 others. The carrier had some quick repairs before heading to Mindoro to support occupation forces in December.
USS Essex rode out another typhoon on December 18 before heading to Lingayen Gulf. She conducted air strikes against Formosa, Sakishima, Okinawa, and Luzon before sailing to the South China Sea. There, she made strikes against Formosa, the coast of China, Hainan, and Hong King. She weathered another typhoon on January 20 before striking Formosa, Miyako-jima, and Okinawa.
The USS Essex attacked Tokyo in February before supporting operations at Iwo Jima. From March until May, she was involved in the assault on Okinawa. Over the summer, she moved on to attack the Japanese home islands, remaining to perform defensive combat air patrols after the Japanese surrendered.
USS Essex was ordered back to Bremerton on September 3. She was decommissioned on January 9, 1947 to undergo extensive modernization to her flight deck and superstructure. She was recommissioned on January 16, 1951 under the command of Captain A. W. Wheelock.
The USS Essex completed three tours of duty during the Korean War. The carrier was the flagship for Carrier Division 1 and Task Force 77. On September 16, 1951, one of her aircraft crashed into several other aircraft on her flight deck, causing a fire and an explosion that killed seven men. Returning from repair work on October 3, she conducted air strikes at the Yalu River and provided air support for U.N. ground forces. She served with the Peace Patrol on the China Sea in December 1953.
Starting in November 1954, USS Essex participated in a number of training exercises. She later sailed with the Seventh Fleet before helping to evacuate the Tachen Islands and participate in operations and fleet maneuvers off Okinawa. She headed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repair and overhaul in July 1955, rejoining the Pacific Fleet with a new angled flight deck in March 1956.
USS Essex joined the Atlantic Fleet for the first time in the summer of 1957. She took part in the NATO exercise Operation Strikeback and sailed with the Sixth Fleet before heading to the Mediterranean. The carrier spent the summer of 1958 supporting the U.S. Peace Force in Beirut. The next few years were spent conducting exercises and providing disaster relief during the flooding at Frejus, France.
The USS Essex was converted into an ASW Support Carrier in 1960 at her new homeport in Quonset Point. She served as the flagship of Carrier Division 18 and Antisubmarine Carrier Group Three. She was involved in more training exercises and maneuvers, including Operation Jet Stream.
Flight crews from the USS Essex were secretly involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, providing air support to bombers. Later that year, she conducted a “people to people” cruise of Northern Europe. When she was sailing home from this cruise, she was badly damaged by a severe storm in the North Atlantic. The carrier headed to Brooklyn Navy Yard for a major overhaul in early 1962.
When President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine on Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the USS Essex was at Guantanamo Bay. From there, she spent over a month helping to blockade Cuba, heading home just before Thanksgiving.
The USS Essex was meant to serve as the prime recovery carrier for the Apollo 1 space mission, but the crew perished in a flash fire on January 27, 1967. Instead, she acted as the prime recovery carrier for the Apollo 7 mission when they splashed down on October 2, 1968. Future astronaut Neil Armstrong had served on the aircraft carrier during the Korean War.
USS Essex was decommissioned on June 30, 1969. She was removed from the Naval Vessel Register on June 1, 1973 and sold for scrap two years later on June 1, 1975. The aircraft carrier earned a Presidential Unit Citation, a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation for her service in battle.
Like other ships from the World War II era, the USS Essex was built using a number of asbestos-containing components. Asbestos was prized for its fireproofing properties as well as its resistance to heat, water, and corrosion. Because of this, it could be found in virtually all areas of the ship, including wall insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, electrical wiring, hot water pipes, valves, steam pipes, boilers, pumps, caulking, gaskets, turbines, incinerators, rope, sealants, and engine rooms. Asbestos was also used in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served aboard the USS Essex or was involved in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing serious asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that attacks the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.
USS Essex workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked on or around the USS Essex, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.