Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Seventy-Five Years Ago: USS Mason (DE 529) is Commissioned

On a snowy morning 75 years ago, two crew members of the new destroyer escort Mason (DE 529) pause on a pier at Boston Navy Yard next to their ship. (RG80/ National Archives and Records Administration)
The crew of the destroyer escort USS Mason (DE 529) appear in dress blues on the ship's forecastle while moored at New York Harbor during World War II. (Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. Naval History and Heritage Command image)
By M.C. Farrington
HRNM Historian
Seventy-five years ago this week the destroyer escort Mason (DE 529) was commissioned at Boston Navy Yard, where it was built.  Although we typically commemorate milestones in the history of a ship such as its commissioning and the major campaigns it might have been involved in, it is the crew that brings the ship to life and imbues its service with meaning.  There aren't many better examples of this than the meaning of the Mason's mission: to show that a crew composed mostly of African-American Sailors could fulfill their duties as well as the crew of any other ship could.  That some leaders in the Navy were still skeptical that such a crew could succeed and even called the venture an "experiment" is evidence of how far the Navy had to go before it could truly be representative of the populace it purportedly protected.

Navigation instruction for Quartermasters, during training for Mason's crew at Naval Training Station Norfolk, Virginia, January 3, 1944. Instructor is Chief Quartermaster L.J. Russell, USNR (right). Trainees are (left to right): Quartermaster 2nd Class Charles W. Divers, Quartermaster 2nd Class Royal H. Gooden, Quartermaster 3rd Class Lewis F. Blanton, and Quartermaster 2nd Class Calvin Bell. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
Although basic training for most of the crew was completed at Camp Robert Smalls at Naval Training Station (NTS) Great Lakes, NTS Norfolk had transitioned in 1943 from its original mission of providing standard basic training into a mission centered around producing qualified destroyer escort Sailors, so many of Mason's crew members had undergone training at NTS Norfolk. Some of the more senior African-American petty officers had also undergone training at nearby Hampton Institute, which until 1944 served as one of the few places in the Navy where African-American Sailors could receive advanced training outside the Messman Branch.

A graduating class at the Messman School in Norfolk, 1943. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file)
Before Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King directed in January 1944 that Mason and the submarine chaser PC-1264, which was commissioned in April, be staffed with qualified African-American petty officers, the only training that black Sailors were allowed to take at NTS Norfolk was at the Messman School there.     

The decision to open destroyer escort training to African-American Sailors in Norfolk began the dismantlement of the system of segregation in the Navy that had held sway since the administration of Woodrow Wilson.     
Signalman 1st Class Ernest V. Alderman (left) administers signal lamp instructions during training for Mason's crew at the Naval Training Station Norfolk, Virginia, on January 3, 1944.  Trainees are (left to right): Signalman 2nd Class Lorenzo A. Dufu, Signalman 2nd Class Julius Holmes, and Signalman 1st Class  William M. Jones. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
Gunner's mates to be assigned to the destroyer escort USS Mason (DE 529) assemble and study a 20mm machine gun, the type they will man aboard ship, under the instruction of Chief Gunner's Mate Rex Ashley during training for at Naval Training Station Norfolk, Virginia, on January 3, 1944.  The trainees are (left to right): Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Albert A. Davis, Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Frank Wood, and Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Warren Vincent. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)

1 comment:

Samtrak said...

My dad and uncles have shared the horrors of segregated military during World War II.