The Private Joe E. Mann was initially christened Owensboro Victory and launched on the 21st of July 1945 as a victory ship. Sponsored by Mrs. Robert A. Nieman she was signed up to Coastwise Lines under the Merchant Marine Act on August 27. She was used both in the Atlantic and Pacific, carrying occupation troops and supplies. She gets a new name from the Army Transportation Service, to which she is transferred in 1947. After only three years with the Army, the ship gets returned to the Navy where she undertakes cargo duty until 1958. In 1960 she is converted to a range tracking ship and sent to the eastern Pacific, near California, to assist the Air Force with missile testing.
As a monitoring ship, she was full of electronics, and the most common form of heat shielding for radio and other electrical equipment at the time was asbestos. Without a doubt, her civilian operators were exposed to the dangerous chemicals when maintaining their equipment.