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Navy Ships Named in Honor of African Americans

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2000 – It took more than 168 years after the Continental Congress authorized the first ship of a new Navy for the United Colonies on Oct. 13, 1775, before a ship was named for an African American.

The first ships were named after kings (Alfred the Great), patriots (John Hancock), heroes (USS Nathanael Greene), ideals (USS Constitution), institutions (USS Congress), American places (USS Virginia), and small creatures with a potent sting such as Hornet, Wasp.

The first ship named in honor of an African American was the USS Harmon (DE-678), a 1,400-ton destroyer escort, commissioned in August 1943. It was named in honor of Mess Attendant First Class Leonard Roy Harmon, who posthumously was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism during the Battle of Guadalcanal on Nov. 13, 1942. He was killed in action aboard the cruiser the USS San Francisco.

Nine other Navy ships have been named in honor of African Americans. Two are under construction.

The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) was the next craft named in honor of an African American. The submarine honors scientist George Washington Carver (1864-1943). Commissioned in June 1966, the Carver carried out 73 patrols in the Atlantic area until mid-1991. She was decommissioned in March 1993.

The USS Jesse L. Brown (DE-1089 and later FF-1089 and FFT- 1089) was named in honor of Ensign Jesse L. Brown, USN (1926-1950). Brown was the first African-American naval aviator, and was killed in action during the Korean War.

The USS Miller (DE-1091, later FF-1091) was named in honor of Cook Third Class Doris ("Dorie") Miller. Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Miller was commissioned in June 1973 and was transferred to the Naval Reserve Force in January 1982. She was decommissioned in October 1991.

The USNS (U.S. Naval Ship) Pfc. James Anderson Jr. (T-AK- 3002) was named in honor of Marine Pfc. James Anderson Jr., who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Vietnam War. A maritime preprositioning ship, the Anderson was built in Denmark in 1979 as the merchant ship Emma Maersk. She's based at Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, and carries equipment to support a Marine expeditionary brigade.

The guided-missile frigate USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG-60) was named in honor of Marine Sgt. Rodney M. Davis, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Vietnam War.

The USNS Henson (T-AGS-63) was named in honor of the Arctic Explorer Matthew Alexander Henson (1866-1955) who accompanied Robert E. Peary when he was credited with discovering the North Pole in 1909. The Henson was commissioned in 1998.

The USNS Watson was named in honor of Army Pvt. George Watson, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during World War II.

The USS Oscar Austin was named in honor of Marine Pfc. Oscar P. Austin, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Vietnam War. The Austin is an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer. The Austin is under construction and is scheduled for commissioning in August 2000.

A 10th ship honoring an African-American Navy Cross recipient, Navy Cook 3rd Class William Pinckney, is under construction. No commissioning date has been set for the Pinckney (DDG-91). The ship is named to honor Pinckney's heroism aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise during the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1942. He survived the battle and died in 1975.

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