The USS Lexington (CV-2), nicknamed the “Gray Lady,” was originally planned as a battle cruiser in 1916. She was reauthorized as an aircraft carrier on July 1, 1922. Her keel was laid down at Fire River Ship and Engine Building Company on January 8, 1921. She was launched on October 5, 1925 and commissioned on December 14, 1927 under the command of Captain Albert W. Marshall.
USS Lexington spent her early years in training and tactical exercises, including fleet maneuvers in Hawaii, the Caribbean, the eastern Pacific, and off the Panama Canal Zone. Robert Heinlein, who would later become a science fiction writer, worked on her radio communications in 1931.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS Lexington was carrying aircraft from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Her planes were sent out to search for the Japanese fleet, and she rendezvoused with the task forces of the USS Indianapolis and the USS Enterprise before returning to Pearl Harbor on December 13.
The USS Lexington attacked Wake Island at the end of December. In early January 1942, she patrolled the area of Oahu, Johnston Atoll, and Palmyra Atoll in case of enemy attacks. On January 11, she became flagship for Vice Admiral Wilson Brown, Commander Task Force 11. While heading to Rabaul, the carrier was attacked by Japanese aircraft on February 20. She shot down 17 of her attackers, and Lieutenant Edward O’Hare earned the Medal of Honor for downing five planes in a single sortie.
USS Lexington patrolled the Coral Sea until early March before joining Task Force 17 for air strikes over the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea. After a brief overhaul at Pearl Harbor, she rejoined TF 17 on May 1 in the Coral Sea. The Battle of the Coral Sea began six days later. She helped sink the Japanese carrier Shoho and down nine enemy aircraft before she was struck by a torpedo on her port side on May 8. She was also hit by three bombs from Japanese dive bombers. Her damage control crew got her back to an even keel, but an explosion below deck threatened the life of the whole crew. The orders were given to “abandon ship.” The men who jumped overboard were picked up by nearby destroyers and cruisers, and the last to leave were Captain Sherman and Commander Morton T. Seligman, who had remained to ensure the safety of all of their men.
The destroyer USS Phelps fired two torpedoes into the USS Lexington to sink her and prevent her from falling into enemy hands. The USS Lexington earned two battle stars for her service in World War II. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on June 24, 1942.
Like all other ships from the World War I era, the USS Lexington was built using many asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos was known for its resistance to water, fire, heat, and corrosion, so it could be found in virtually all areas of the ship and in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served aboard the USS Lexington or was involved in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses like asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer.
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.