Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Uncle Tomism, and the mutiny of the USS Kitty Hawk
Uncle Tomism, and the mutiny of the USS Kitty Hawk
I was attached to the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) from 1969 to 71, making one Westpac tour to Vietnam. I was the Captain's yeoman, an E-4 pay grade, and with a minimal secret clearance.
Photo of author aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, 1970
My Captains were Earl F. Godfrey who was relieved by CAPT Owen H. Oberg, Executive Officer A.E.G. Grosvenor, Carrier Air Wing Eleven Commander Jack F. O'Hara, Vice Admiral Frederic A. Bardshar, CTF-77, and Rear Admiral Damon W. Cooper, CTF-77. Attached to the Executive Division, I was under the charge of Lt. Elva S. Scott, Jr, Administrative Assistant. I had both the greatest respect and what might be considered subjective fear of these men, and at 19, and so low on the totem pole, a kind word or smile from any of them lifted my spirits for weeks.
But there were men on that carrier who's spirit was both damaged and dark. They could not assimilate with the crew, or had respect for authority, and organized themselves to go against both Navy tradition, and the American standard for war in the open sea. This cumulated in a rebellion within the enemy waters of the Tonkin Gulf. Though I know many meetings where ship's morale were discussed, it continued to escalate downward after my discharge, culminating into what can only be described in retrospect as mutiny.
A year after my discharge, none of these top officers above were involved. In 1972 Captain Oberg was relieved by Captain Marland W. "Doc" Townsend, and the XO was Benjamin W. Cloud. Both of these men were distinguished, well decorated and seasoned veterans, but what happened on their watch could not be realized, partially because there was no precedent for this in US Naval History. It is amazing to think back over this story, because from my perspective I saw something profound coming, and I wonder why it could not be thwarted from the start. I was just too close to it to understand, and I think it possibly the same for those in charge too.
What I know of this episode comes from my two years aboard as a clerical typist for the Captain, firsthand accounts of many friends who lived through it, and a new book by Gregory A. Freeman called Troubled Water" Race, Mutiny, and bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk.
"They got the captain! They got the captain!" The man ran on by, and everyone in the sick bay paused what they were doing for a second to look around the room at each other. They got the captain? This is really mutiny? -From Troubled Water.
At this time the United States was involved in a very unpopular war called Vietnam, and the USS Kitty Hawk, with a compliment of 5000 men, headed for the Gulf of Tonkin. The lines of this mutiny were drawn racially, black against white. By the time order was finally restored, it was told by the men who lived it that many hundreds of men were seriously hurt, and careers shredded. So profound were the consequences that there was a concerted effort to both hide and minimize it from media and public record. And though it became a turning point in Navy race relations, the story was buried within U.S. Navy archives for decades.
By interviewing eye witnesses, and a careful study of Navy records, Gregory F. Freeman makes a convincing case that this incident is the first recorded Mutiny in US history.
My life experience with negative racial predicaments goes back to my first memories in New Orleans, from early childhood to my enlisting. I was 57 in the draft out of John F. Kennedy Sr. High, with many near misses and horrific memories of those hate-filled times. Forced integration brought children together with very dissimilar attitudes, values, and violence became a daily occurrence. It created angry and frustrated men who tried to take a stand against this unreasoned onslaught that wrought the destruction of our once beautiful city, and realigned social structures that undermined law and moral value.
One boy in my senior class tried to reason through this horror. His name was David Duke. Though there has been a concerted effort to destroy David's reputation by his association with Neo-Nazism and the KKK, times were desperate. And though I cannot justify his mindset, he was just as much a product of his environment as I was, or the 67 percent of male blacks who now fill our prisons. At the time it may have seemed to him the only alternative, as all of us just tried to survive in an uncertain and brutal environment.
I saw the same racial cancer growing in the bowels of the Kitty Hawk just days after coming aboard. In my division, The Executive Division, the blacks were not of the same caliber as some of the rest. When we went on shore leave, for instance, the x-division black men went with us, and without a problem. Of course, to be accepted into that department hinged on a high test score of a stringent entrance exam, along with the rigors of a secret clearance where any negativity would exclude you. This insured both quality and trust. It wasn't the same in other divisions, especially, as I remember, the maintenance department, and those restrictions became more lax in the next several years.
These low quality men, some with criminal records and others with a fourth grade education, were of a different mindset, and most reflected the same mean-spirited racism and overt ignorance I found at home. The reason was a simple one, as the war needed more personnel, government became lax in its admissions with a new Navy initiative designed to increase opportunity. Opportunity proposed by the progressive left. This turned out to be a big mistake, as some people just can't reason an opportunity, and it passes by unseen.
For my tour the Hawk had the same compliment of men, about 5000, with about 80 being black. With the new initiatives in place, the next cruse of 1972 changed that number to nearly 300. These men, from the inner city of several American municipalities, were ill-equipped to cope with a structured environment, the danger and stress of a wartime environment, confinement and continuous work for extended periods, the frustrated absence of sexual expression, and with the ever-growing availability of drugs, abuse became the norm.
It was also compounded by an anti-war sentiment from family at home, coupled with anti-war music that stimulated the emergent black power movement, ...and this exacerbated a profound hatred that finally erupted into violence. And furthermore, San Diego's black Muslims were picking up our black sailors on downtown streets as far back as my observations, 1969.
Late into the night they would pull up to the curb and coerce black men in uniform to participate in secret meetings. I saw them being picked up on the block of a very popular store called Seven Seas, in San Diego, and took pictures of them with my new Minolta camera. I photographed these vans at night, sometimes using infrared, securing license plate numbers and the faces of drivers. I then compiled them with a letter, and submitted this to the Captain, via my chain of command, with my concerns. He later told me, via my Chief, that these photos were indeed interesting, and were the topic of several ship-board meetings. But as far as I knew then or now, nothing tangible was done.
On October 12th, 250 days into its West Pacific deployment, following yet another announcement that the ship would be delayed going back to their San Diego home base, there began an assault on white sailors that took the entire night to put down. They used sharpened broomsticks, pipes, chains, fire nozzles and axes, and they roamed at will beating up anyone white...
Though my friends in X division told me that there were more than 600 injured, the official record shows fifty treated by shipboard medics, with three serious enough to be evacuated by helicopter. My numbers may indeed be wrong because I had not heard about it for over a month after it happened. It was the day the Hawk returned home, when my wife and I met it on the landing, that we were told. It was the topic of every conversation on the dock.
We waved at about a dozen faces we knew along the neatly filed ranks, all in their glowing dress whites. Really was an awesome spectacle, and The Hawk was freshly painted too. And no matter what the official record of the events are in retrospect, what happened aboard the USS Kitty Hawk was unprecedented in US Naval history. Trying to quell this story in a politically charged America at odds with an undeclared war-machine draft is no justification, of course. And yet, from my perspective, it may also have been believed by the Navy that if this became common knowledge through the media, that it could have been used as a wedge between the war effort and anti-war activists, with the possibly of further strengthening our enemies resolve. No-matter, those aboard thought a mutiny was underway, and Freeman focuses on those five hours that were the worse.
Freeman also centers on the unorthodox approach of The Hawk's black XO, Cloud, the first black man to have climbed so high in the 7th fleet. His orders to quell this violence were at odds with the captain, but it is speculated that he might have saved the ship, and possibly many lives as well.
No lives were lost, but it damaged the careers of both the captain and his executive officer, and led to many initiative reversals and new reforms designed that this might never happen again. And all in the silenced back drop of 29 black service men's summery court marshals, and overturned and reduced criminal convictions by NAACP pressure, 19 were found guilty of at least one charge.
It seems the same fearful mindset was at work here as the LA riots, twenty years later... We should respect the law, not fear the reprisal of the lawless....Here is the definition of a Mutiny...
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals (typically members of the military; or the crew of any ship, even if they are civilians) to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject. The term is commonly used for a rebellion among members of the military against their superior officer(s), but can also occasionally refer to any type of rebellion against an authority figure.
During the Age of Discovery, mutiny particularly meant open rebellion against a ship's captain. This occurred, for example, during Magellan's famous journeys around the world, resulting in the killing of one mutineer, the execution of another and the marooning of others, and on Henry Hudson's Discovery, resulting in Hudson and others being set adrift in a boat.
If you want to read firsthand accounts of that night, I suggest the book Gregory A. Freeman called Troubled Water, Race, Mutiny, and bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk. It is a graphic account of the night from about seven perspectives, and well researched. From the archives of the House Services Committee who inquired about both the Kitty Hawk uprising and the USS Constellation's sit-down strike (that promoted solidarity with the Hawk's rebellion), both suggested a conspiracy, the very definition of Mutiny.
The black Kitty Hawk XO, Cloud, volunteered his ideas on the reasons this happened in his final statement to the Committee that still rings true today...
"Among the black community on the ship there is this open and vehement, in many cases, distrust of anyone that is older and more senior and who has more experience. Because here again. 'they got that way by practicing Tomism' or something else which would closely--"
"Practicing what?" Pirnie asked.
"Well, is that term going to apply to anyone who is successful?"
"It generally does."
"Isn't that a fundamental weakness in our endeavor to try and create an equal society?"
"Yes sir, I think it is. Let me say this: I think it is generally presumed by the blacks that we are talking about here, the eight-teen to twenty-two-year-olds, that anybody that is black that is successful got that way basically by compromising their principles of blackness, if I may use that term."
Later he continues in that same vein with a question: "Who is telling them that?" Pirnie asked. "He would think it otherwise."
"It is his mother and father in the community he comes from," Cloud said. "It comes from the ghetto, from the street."
Authors note: Several years ago I wrote about the problems with drugs in New Orleans and Crowley, and in both cases those interviewed used the same sentiment, a description of an insurmountable obstacle for the black man, the virtual enslavement of attitude by a concept called Uncle Tomism. It is alive and well in our young people, even today, and just as potent as it was forty years ago on the USS Kitty Hawk. Our country is indeed at a cross road, where big government is dictating every aspect of our lives, and liberty wanes with every dominating government advancement. There is an effort from the left and the right to thwart this, from the voice of the Tea Party movement to the Wall Street Occupiers. When the day comes... when we can stand together for a common cause, this country will once again belong to us. If not, slavery will be our common denominator.