The USS Lexington (CV-16) was originally planned as USS Cabot. She was ordered for the U.S. Navy on September 9, 1940. Her keel was laid down at Bethlehem Steel Company on July 15, 1941. She was launched on September 23, 1942 and commissioned on February 17, 1943 under the command of Captain Felix Stump.
USS Lexington joined the World War II action by raiding Tarawa in September 1943 and Wake Island the following month. In November, her aircraft flew sorties in the Marshall Islands and she covered the troop landings in the Gilberts. Her planes shot down 29 Japanese aircraft on November 23-24.
In December, the USS Lexington launched strikes against Kwajalein, taking down a cargo ship and 30 enemy aircraft, and damaging two cruisers. That night, December 4, she was hit by a torpedo on her starboard side, taking out her steering gear and the entire chiefs quarters. All men in the chiefs quarters at the time were killed. Damage control crews were able to prevent the ship from sinking, and she headed to Pearl Harbor for emergency repairs before sailing to Bremerton for permanent repairs. Tokyo Rose reported that “The Blue Ghost” sank. In order to demoralize the Japanese, it was said that the “Blue Ghost,” so nicknamed because of her dark blue paint, sank every evening and re-appeared on the horizon each morning.
When USS Lexington returned to battle in March 1944, she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher, Commander Task Force 58. She supported the Army landings at Hollandia in April before striking at Truk. She splashed 17 Japanese fighter planes at Truk, and though she remained undamaged, she was reported sunk by Japanese propaganda once again.
The USS Lexington moved on to Saipan in June. When she met with Japanese torpedo planes at Guam on June 16, the Japanese again reported her sunk. The aircraft carrier took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea several days later, playing a large role in the “Mariana Turkey Shoot.”
During August and September, USS Lexington struck at targets in Guam, the Palaus, the Bonins, the Carolines, Yap, Ulithi, Mindanao, the Visayas, Manila, and Leyte. On October 10, her task force attacked Okinawa. Two days later, they moved on to Formosa.
USS Lexington covered the landings at Leyte and was instrumental in the American victory during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. She helped to sink the Japanese battleship Mushasi, four cruisers, and three aircraft carriers. On November 5, she was hit by a flaming kamikaze, taking out her island structure and setting the ship on fire. Casualties were considered light, and the aircraft carrier sailed to Ulithi for repairs, once again reported to have been sunk by the Japanese.
When she returned to action, she became the flagship for Task Group 58.2 on December 11. Her task force struck at targets on Luzon, Formosa, Saipan, Indochina, Hong Kong, the Pescadores, and Okinawa in January 1945. After replenishment at Ulithi, she moved on to strike at Tokyo in mid-February. The carrier group supported the landing forces at Iwo Jima before heading toward the Japanese home islands and Nansei Shoto.
From there, the USS Lexington headed to Puget Sound for overhaul. She returned to the war zone to join in the final air strikes against the Japanese home islands in July and August, including Honshu, Hokkaido, Yokosuka, Kure, and Tokyo. The aircraft carrier remained when the war ended, flying patrols over Japan and dropping supplies to POW camps. As part of Operation Magic Carpet, she brought American servicemen home from war with her on December 3.
After World War II, USS Lexington was decommissioned on April 23, 1947. She was reclassified as an attack carrier, CVA-16, and underwent conversion and modernization at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The carrier was recommissioned on August 15, 1955 under the command of Captain A.S. Heyward, Jr.
With San Diego as her homeport, the USS Lexington sailed with the Seventh Fleet, participated in fleet exercises and maneuvers, conducted search and rescue missions off the coast of China, and made a number of ports of call in the Far East. She trained Air Group 12 and became the flagship for Rear Admiral H.D. Riley, Commander Carrier Division 1.
The USS Lexington had just undergone overhaul when the Lebanon Crisis began on July 14, 1958. She sailed with the Seventh Fleet off Taiwan as a peacekeeping mission, returning home on December 19. In 1959, she was on standby alert during the Laotian Crisis before heading to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for overhaul.
USS Lexington made another tour of the Far East in late 1960, extended when tension was renewed in Laos. From there, she headed to the Gulf of Mexico to relieve the USS Antietam as an aviation training carrier. She was redesignated CVS-16 on October 1, 1962, but became involved in the naval quarantine during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and she was not able to relieve the USS Antietam until December 29.
Pensacola became the USS Lexington’s new homeport in 1969, where she served to train and qualify naval aviators. She was redesignated CVT-16 on January 1, 1969, and remained a training carrier for 22 years until she was decommissioned on November 8, 1991 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register the same day. The aircraft carrier now serves as a museum ship at Corpus Christi, Texas. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003. The USS Lexington earned 11 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for her service in World War II.
Like other ships from the World War II era, the USS Lexington was constructed with many asbestos-containing components. Asbestos was known for its resistance to heat, fire, water, and corrosion, so it was used in virtually all areas of the ship and in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served on or around the aircraft carrier was put at risk of developing serious asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that affects the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.
USS Lexington 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 Lexington, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.