USS Mason, USS PC-1264, and the African-American Crews during World War II

Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist and Kevin Bradley, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

In 1941, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanding that African Americans be used in roles other than messmen in the US military. The momentum of the NAACP and the black community forced President Roosevelt to deal with the issue of discrimination against African Americans in the Armed Services during World War I

I. Although, the US Navy was reluctant to admit African Americans, it decided under pressure, to allowed two of its vessels be manned by nearly all-black crews. RG 24 Logbooks of U. S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941-1978 (NAID 594258) consist of chronological entries documenting the daily activities of a commissioned Navy ship, including the daily occurrences on board the USS Mason and PC-1264, which had mostly all-black crews.

USS Mason at the Boston Naval Yard (NAID 6210481)

The USS Mason (DE-529) was commissioned on March 20, 1944, with a crew of 150 African-American enlisted men and six officers. The vessel was part of the Evarts-class destroyer escort, with the responsibility of providing protection for other naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean.

The USS Mason was involved in several convoys across the Atlantic Ocean during the war. A few of the escorts included journeys to Belfast, Ireland and Plymouth, England. On one particular convoy in the Atlantic, the USS Mason was damaged during a severe storm in 1944. The African-American crew repaired the ship and was able to continue with their voyage. These men did not received any letters of commendation for this act until 1994. Beginning on December 17, 1944, the USS Mason  joined with the USS TF-64 on a tour to Oran, Algeria. Below are the deck log pages showing the activities during this journey.

The USS Mason was decommissioned on October 12, 1945 and sold for scrap.

Crew of the PC-1264 salute the American Flag (NAID 535785)

Crew of the PC-1264 salutes the American Flag (NAID 535785)

The USS PC-1264 was commissioned on April 25, 1944, with 53 African-American crew members. It was a PC-461 class submarine chaser built for military engagement during World War II. The mission of this naval vessel was to destroy German U-boats off the East Coast of the U.S. Below of the deck log pages of the first day of the PC-1264.

With missions along the East Coast, the PC-1264 had to stop at various ports along the way. The vessel experienced some difficulty docking in southern ports due to racial discrimination and the Jim Crow culture. Despite these challenges, the mostly black crew of the PC-1264 completed many convoys from New York to Cuba or Key West. Below are the deck logs documenting one of the convoys.

During the course of the PC-1264, there were several white men in command of the submarine chaser. On May 2, 1945, Ensign Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. reported to duty on board the PC-1264. Although, the vessel was placed out of service, Gravely became the only African American to command the PC-1264. The PC-1264 was decommissioned on February 7, 1946 and is currently at the Whitte Brothers Marine Scrap Yard in New York. Below are the deck log pages signed by Gravely.

The performances of the USS Mason and PC-1264 forced the Navy to reevaluate its discriminatory policies towards African Americans. Both vessels received letters of commendations for their service during World War II.

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8 Responses to USS Mason, USS PC-1264, and the African-American Crews during World War II

  1. I am trying to locate my granddaddy’s record for the US Navy. He was in WWII. His birth name was Melton Ridley. He may be listed as Milton Ridley. The people in his hometown in Georgia called him Rayfield Ridley. He is Black and was born in May 1911. Please help!
    Thank you.

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  2. clairee says:

    hi, I’m looking for any information on a family member by the name of Artis Stanley, a navy man during WWII. Any photos of African Americans soldiers, like Mr Artis Stanley? Also, my father Robert Jones age 92, African American, who served in WWII from 1943-1945, any photos from the army? Also his army buddy from Cincinnati, Ohio, his name would be James Webb.

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  3. Robin S. Penick says:

    Thank you all for this great story!! I am interested in being able to enlarge and read the photos throughout the article. How can I do this?

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    • Ligon says:

      Good Afternoon,

      With the slides, its sometimes difficult to enlarge the images. Normally, you would click on the image and it opens in another window. Also, the deck logs for the USS Mason and PC-1264 are in the process of being digitized and will be available thru the online catalog in a couple of months.

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  4. Fred Bond says:

    i was looking to find any Shipmates of the USS Mason DE 529 still alive. I have a story to tell you about the crew members i knew in the ’80s and to the Present. James Graham was a great friend and he died within 2 weeks of my dad. Contact me if you have info about others or to hear some stories. 914-396-2284 this isnt a prank.

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    • Ligon says:

      Good Morning,

      Below is some information about how to locate people who served in the US military. If you have any further questions, please contact our reference staff at archives2reference@nara.gov.

      HOW TO REACH LIVING PERSONS

      Each of the five branches of the military has separate procedures for contacting active or past service members. Provide as much identifying information as possible about the person you wish to locate, such as full name, rank, last duty assignment/last known military address, service number, and Social Security number. The locator service is free to immediate family members and government officials. Other family members, civilian friends, businesses and others must pay $3.50. The check or money order must be made out to the U.S. Treasury. It is not refundable.

      If you would like more information about locating persons of unknown whereabouts, you may call toll-free at 1-800- FED-INFO, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time.

      This information was gathered from http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/call/locating_individuals.htm.

      Additional sources maybe found on our web site at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/other-resources/find-vets.html.

      Navy

      The Navy’s locator service helps locate individuals on active duty and those whose service ended less than a year ago. In addition, the Navy will forward letters as long as the correct postage is affixed to the envelope. Please contact the Navy World Wide Locator, Bureau of Naval Personnel, PERS 312F, 5720 Integrity Drive, Millington, TN 38055-3120. Their telephone number is 1-901-874-3388.

      Marine Corps

      The Marine Corps can provide the duty station for active duty personnel and reservists. For retired individuals, the locator service can provide the city and state, but not an address. The service will provide the service member’s current rank and unit address; however, due to the locator’s staffing, the office cannot forward mail except in special cases. Telephonic requests to 703-640-3942 or 703-640-3943 are free of charge to immediate family members and government officials calling on official business. In addition, telephonic service will be provided at no cost to any individual, business or organization, if the Marine locator decides the information would benefit the individual. Send written locator requests to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters, USMC, Code MMSB-10, Quantico, VA 22134-5030.

      How-to Books and Articles on Finding Living Persons:

      Gormley, Myra Vanderpool. “20th Century Military Records.” Heritage Quest 10 (May-June 1987) 3-7.

      Hinckley, Kathleen W. “Locating the living: Twentieth Century Research Methodology.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 77 (September 1989): 186-196.

      Johnson, Richard S. How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military, Eighth Edition. Fort Sam Houston, TX: Military Information Enterprises, 1999.

      Martin, Amy Suzanne. “Playing Detective: How Government Records and the Freedom of Information Act Can Help You Locate a Missing Person.” Heritage Quest 7 (July-August 1991): 7-8.

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