The USS Hancock (CV-19) was ordered for the U.S. Navy during World War II, originally planned as the USS Ticonderoga. Her keel was laid down at Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy on January 26, 1943. She was launched on January 24, 1944 and commissioned on April 15, 1944 under the command of Captain Fred C. Dickey.
USS Hancock became the flagship for Rear Admiral Gerald Bogan, Commander Carrier Task Group 38.2, on October 5, 1944. Five days later, she joined with other units from Task Force 38 to launch air strikes against the Ryukyu Islands and Okinawa. Her aircraft downed seven enemy planes and helped destroy 12 torpedo boats, four cargo ships, two midget submarines, a submarine tender, and a number of sampans. On October 12, she headed to Formosa, where her planes took down six planes, sank a cargo ship, and damaged several others.
The USS Hancock then headed to the Philippines to support the troop landings at Leyte. Throughout October and November, she participated in operations at Samar and Manila before becoming the flagship of Fast Carrier Task Force 38 on November 17.
On November 25, USS Hancock was attacked by a kamikaze. The plane was destroyed by antiaircraft fire about 300 feet above the ship, but part of its wing hit the carrier’s flight deck and burst into flames. The fire was extinguished quickly, so damage was minimal.
At the end of November into December, the USS Hancock supported operations at Luzon, Mindoro, Salvador Island, Masinloc, San Fernando, Cabanatuan, and Manila Bay. The aircraft carrier rode out a typhoon on December 17. She headed to the South China Sea at the end of the month, attacking Luzon, Formosa, Camranh Bay, Saigon, French Indochina, Hainan Island, the Pescadores Islands, and Hong Kong in January. On January 21, 1945, one of her planes exploded on deck, killing 50 men and injuring 75 others. She remained to strike at Okinawa the following day before heading to Ulithi on January 25.
In February, USS Hancock launched air strikes against Tokyo. On February 10, her planes from Air Group 80 downed 71 enemy aircraft. They continued on in the following days to strike at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima in preparation for the invasion of Iwo Jima. She provided tactical support for the Iwo Jima campaign until February 22.
USS Hancock sailed back to the Japanese home islands in March, attacking at Honshu, Nansei Shoto, Kyushu, and shipping in the Inland Sea. On March 18, the task force was attacked by kamikazes. Fragments of one plane that got shot down hit the carrier’s deck, but she escaped any major damage. She then joined Task Group 58.3 to strike at Nansei Shoto, Minami Daito Island, and Kyushu later in the month.
The USS Hancock provided close air support for the Army landings at Okinawa on April 1. Six days later, a kamikaze cart wheeled across her flight deck. The plane crashed into a group of aircraft onboard and its bomb hit the port catapult, resulting in a large explosion that killed 62 men and injured 71 others. The aircraft carrier headed back to Pearl Harbor for repairs on April 9, returning to action on June 13.
Back in action, USS Hancock attacked Wake Island, on June 20 and headed to Tokyo to launch strikes on their airfields on July 10. Her aircraft continued to strike at Japanese targets until Japan capitulated on August 15, the day that some of her photo reconnaissance planes were attacked over Sagami Wan; three of her planes were shot down. She shot down a Japanese torpedo plane as it attacked a British task force the same day. Ten days later, her aircraft searched for POW camps and dropped both supplies and medicine.
During the formal surrender ceremony on board the USS Missouri, aircraft from the USS Hancock flew overhead. The aircraft carrier brought thousands of troops home during Operation Magic Carpet. She was decommissioned on April 29, 1946 before being converted to an attack aircraft carrier. She was reclassified CVA-19 on October 1, 1952 and recommissioned on February 15, 1954 under the command of Captain W.S. Butts.
After recommissioning, the USS Hancock participated in a number of testing operations, including a steam catapult, Sparrow I missiles, Regulus missile, and Cutlass jet aircraft. She was deployed with the Seventh Fleet on August 10, 1995, when she sailed for Japan, the Philippines, and Okinawa. The aircraft carrier was decommissioned again for further conversions, including a new angled flight deck, on April 13, 1956.
USS Hancock was recommissioned on November 15, 1956. She participated in training exercises before several deployments to the Far East, including a 1958 trip to Taiwan when the Chinese islands Quemoy and Matsu were threatened with Communist invasion. She headed to Laos on August 1, 1959 to support the Seventh Fleet’s operations there. The carrier returned to San Francisco for several months to help demonstrate how ultra-high-frequency waves could be reflected off the moon for communications.
The USS Hancock returned to Laos in August 1960 until tensions there subsided, allowing her to operate near Japan and the Philippines. She returned to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for overhaul in March 1961, where she remained until February 1962. The carrier then headed off to patrol the South China Sea and trouble loomed in Laos and South Vietnam. She participated in carrier qualifications, defense exercises near South Korea, and a deployment off the coast of South Vietnam before heading to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard for modernization on January 16, 1964.
On November 19, 1964, USS Hancock arrived at Japan en route to Yankee Station. She spent several deployments supporting U.N. Forces during the Vietnam War, earning a Navy Unit Commendation in August 1966. She was involved in Operation Freedom Bait and Operation Freedom Train. The aircraft carrier’s air crews conducted thousands of air strikes against North Vietnamese targets. She helped evacuate American personnel when Saigon fell to North Vietnam in 1975.
USS Hancock was decommissioned for the last time on January 30, 1976. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on January 31, 1976 and sold for scrap on September 1, 1976. In addition to her Navy Unit Commendation from the Vietnam War, the aircraft carrier earned four battle stars for her service in World War II. She was the last wooden-decked aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, and she was the location for the filming of Elvis Presley’s appearance on The Milton Berle Show on April 3, 1956.
Like virtually all ships built during World War II, the USS Hancock was constructed using many asbestos-containing components. Asbestos was known for its resistance to heat, fire, water, and corrosion, so it could be found in nearly every part of the ship, as well as in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served aboard the USS Hancock or participated in her repair and overhaul was put at risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, a dangerous form of cancer that attacks the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.
USS Hancock 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 Hancock, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.