Sometimes it seems like those “big zero” birthdays can creep up on you before you even know it! So you may be surprised to learn that there’s a particularly big birthday upon us right now – one our entire country can celebrate: The 240th birthday of the U.S. Navy is today, October 13th.
Fitting of an organization whose unofficial motto is “not for self but for country,” the Navy began its service in 1775, before the young U.S. was even an official country. The birthday of the nation itself wouldn’t come for nearly 9 more months later, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.
A History of Victory
The fledgling service – Congress had commissioned just two ships to begin with — struggled to contend with the mighty British navy during the Revolution. But it soon proved its worth, helping to fight off pirates and protect American shipping during the Barbary Wars at the turn of the 19th century.
Through the years, the Navy’s strength would prove the key to spurring American success in both war and peace. In the 1850s, Commodore Matthew Perry’s establishment of a trade treaty with Japan extended American power across the globe. And in the 20th century, the Navy’s success at the Battle of Midway turned the tide of battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II, paving the way for the Allied victory.
Pain and Glory in Navy Service
The 300,000-plus men and women currently serving in the U.S. Navy can count some glorious predecessors among their ranks. Navy service has helped launch the careers of six presidents, and its veterans include many individuals who gained fame in other fields, including baseball legend Yogi Berra, NBA MVP David Robinson, computer pioneer Grace Hopper, and astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Naval experience may have toughened up these American heroes – a sailor’s life has always been difficult and dangerous, with distance sea voyages keeping Navy personnel away from home for long stretches. In the 18th and 19th centuries, diseases like scurvy imperiled the lives of sailors. Even today, there are illnesses that are common among those who have served. Former service members and Navy shipyard workers are among those most likely to become gravely ill with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is a fatal disease which most commonly affects the lining of the lungs. It is primarily contracted through the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, is extremely resistant to fire. This made the mineral especially valuable in the U.S. Navy, where a fire aboard a ship could put the vessel’s entire crew in jeopardy. Asbestos-containing materials were in widespread use aboard Navy ships and on bases throughout the 1970s.
In most cases, 20-50 years pass between a person’s exposure to asbestos and the emergence of the disease. That means that many veterans today are only now learning of this lingering and slow-to-develop health issue related to their service. Though only about 8 percent of the U.S. population are veterans, more than 30 percent of mesothelioma victims have served in the armed forces. Veterans and those who care for them have a special need to learn more about this deadly disease, its symptoms and treatment options.
Sokolove Law honors the service of our nation’s veterans, and, in echoing the words of the Naval Academy fight song, wishes all our veterans a happy voyage home. Happy 240th Birthday to the United States Navy!