The USNS Watertown was a Victory ship, laid down on 12th February 1944 as Niantic Victory by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp. Starting May 1944, she made cargo runs in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, she was one of the ships to take part in the Marshall Plan relief efforts between November 1946 and May 1948. Re-instated for the Korean War, the vessel traveled between Korea and the US until the end of the conflict in 1955. Changing a number of operators in the subsequent three years, she was laid up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet in 1958, but brought back into service with the Navy only two years after. Afterward, she acted in support of NASA and the USAF for the following 11 years as a missile tracking ship.
Asbestos was used in all the areas of this ship for heat and water insulation as it had great capacities as a building material. However, the sailors working in the engine rooms, damage control room, pump room, and propulsion room were exposed to great health risks. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and living or working in a space where asbestos particles are present entails correlated health hazards. Many veterans who worked in the Navy suffer today from different forms of cancer due to asbestos exposure.