U.S.S. Mason - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

U.S.S. Mason

Mason Commander Blackford, 1944/U.S. Navy Mason Commander Blackford, 1944/U.S. Navy
Mason Crew in Training, 1944/U.S. Navy Mason Crew in Training, 1944/U.S. Navy
Mason Crew in Training, 1944/U.S. Navy Mason Crew in Training, 1944/U.S. Navy

The USS Mason was the first warship to be manned predominantly by African-Americans. In some circles it was referred to as "Eleanor's Folly" because Eleanor Roosevelt was an advocate of desegregating the armed forces. There were 150 black enlisted men on the ship and it served as an escort for naval vessels across the North Atlantic.

In an interesting sidebar of history the white captain of the ship, Bill Blackford, was the great grandson of a known abolitionist Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford.

The ship served as a role model for the integration of Navy ships including a submarine chaser which was commissioned during WWII with an all black crew, including the Navy's first black officer, who captained the vessel.

Many believed the ship with an entirely black enlisted crew would be an absolute failure. However in October of 1944 the ship earned its stripes. A convoy of ships was headed across the North Atlantic when a storm called the worst in the 20th century hit the convoy with record setting waves - 13 vessels in the convoy were sunk. This led the convoy commander to send the smaller ships ahead with the U.S.S. Mason as escort.

As the ships' almost month long struggle across the sea was about to end and the ships were ready to enter an England port, winds gusted to 60 knots. Visibility was zero. The Mason's deck split. The seam holding the deck together broke. But the Mason's crew would not give up.

While no one responded to the ship's calls for help, the crew charged about with the required tasks to keep the ship afloat in nearly impossible conditions. The engine room was pumped, the deck repaired, and a new antennae was put in service. But the men of the Mason could not rest. They stayed out at sea three more days helping twelve more of the beleaguered ships in the convoy to make it safely to shore.

Captain Blackford was so proud of his crew he recommended them for individual commendation for saving the convoy. The convoy commander also recommended the crew for commendation but nothing ever came of either recommendation.

The crew not only distinguished itself on the high seas but showed its humanitarian spirit when faced with the extreme poverty of one of their ports of call in Algeria. Some of the sailors found people so hungry they were going through the ship's garbage to find food to eat. With a quiet nod from the captain, the crew washed out its trash cans and filled it with food which it set outside the ship for the scavengers to retrieve.

Fifty years later the men of the U.S.S. Mason were finally honored by their home port city of Boston for their valiant service and efforts and for paving the way for future generations of African-American sailors who would serve with distinction.

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