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World War II Sailors receive recognition, inspire servicemembers

By Cpl. Elsa M. Portillo | | May 28, 2004

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Marines, Sailors, friends and supporters gathered at the Time Warner Center Thursday to commemorate two former Sailors for their efforts during World War II.

The film by Mary Pat Kelly was inspired by James W. Graham and Lorenzo A. DuFau’s struggles of being onboard the first Navy ship comprised of blacks and their fight against racism.

The movie “Proud,” based on Kelly’s book Proudly We Served, gave servicemembers and civilians alike the opportunity to interact and recognize part of our nation’s history and how far we have come as a society.

The film revisits 1942 when the Navy gave blacks the opportunity to serve their country.  Even though they could now become Sailors, the Navy mirrored a society which at the time was segregated.  During this time, black Sailors not only fought battles against the nation’s enemy but they also fought the daily battles that come with rampant racism.

“We were a part of American history,” DuFau said.  “I hope someday to see our history taught in public schools … let it be a part of American history.”

The only blacks to take a warship into battle were the Sailors aboard the USS Mason.  They were recommended for commendation but never received it while they were in service.  This lack of recognition was common during their tours.  However, according to Graham and DuFau they just wanted to fight for their country and defend their homeland.

These Sailors aboard the USS Mason did just that by escorting convoy ships across the Atlantic and averting danger during a treacherous time in America’s history.  Their opportunity to serve as more than stewards or laborers, a position most black Sailors were assigned, gave them a chance to pave the way for future generations of black Sailors and servicemembers in general.

According to Brig. Gen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr., commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Forces Augmentation Command Element, these Sailors endured the tough times of war and racism, which helped to further the role of future black servicemembers.   

In 1995, the surviving men who served on the USS Mason were vindicated when the Navy presented them with letters of commendation for their meritorious service.

The viewers enjoyed “Proud.” They were moved by these Sailors’ commitment to succeed and came away with a feeling of inspiration and appreciation for our silent heroes of the past.
Sergeant Sherry L. Hodges, maintenance management chief, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., felt that the movie made a tremendous impact on her and that it paved the way for all of her fellow servicemembers.

The documentary and book have helped to further DuFau and Graham’s wish to have the men who served on the USS Mason recognized in American history.  They have also gained recognition for all black Sailors aboard their former ship.

Besides film and print recognition, in 1998 the Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton officially announced his decision to name an Arleigh Burke Destroyer the USS Mason DDG 87 to acknowledge the contributions of Sailors serving on the USS Mason DE 529, and their efforts towards equality and the desegregation in the Navy’s ranks.

For more information concerning the book and film, go to www.ussmason.org.







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