The USS Watchman (AGR-16) was a Guardian-class radar picket ship built in 1945 at J. A. Jones Construction Co. Inc., Panama City, Florida, as SS Vernon S. Wood. The ship was launched on 20 February 1945, and one month later, she was delivered to the Maritime Commission to be operated by Overlakes Freight Co. In 1958 she was acquired by the US Navy and converted to a Radar Picket Ship at Charleston Naval Shipyard, Charleston, S.C. On 5 January 1958, the USS Watchman (AGR-16) was placed in commission at Charleston, with Lt. Comdr. Irvin Boaz in command.
Navy veterans employed in various areas of ships were often exposed to asbestos in their everyday line of work. For example, enginemen inhaled asbestos dust while operating, maintaining, and repairing the internal combustion engine used to power the Navy ships. The pipes that traversed the ceilings on the ships were covered with asbestos insulation. Engine vibrations would cause the mineral to flake onto crew members’ bunks and other exposed surfaces.