Simply over a 12 months earlier than the assault on Pearl Harbor, 15 sailors assigned to the united statesS. Philadelphia wrote a letter to a Black newspaper detailing the abuse and indignities that they had confronted on the warship solely due to the colour of their pores and skin.
Once they enlisted, the Navy had promised coaching and assignments that will result in development, however the Black sailors quickly discovered that these alternatives didn’t exist for them. They had been compelled to be servants for the ship’s officers, “restricted to ready on tables and making beds” as so-called mess attendants, they wrote.
For daring to talk out, a couple of of the boys had been jailed and all of them had been kicked out of the Navy with discharges that eternally labeled them as unfit to serve.
The plight of the group, which grew to become referred to as “the Philadelphia 15,” pale from public consideration as World Battle II erupted. However the injustice they confronted, and the stigma their discharge papers carried, lived on for greater than 80 years.
On Friday, in a ceremony on the Pentagon’s Corridor of Heroes, 4 surviving relations of two of these males, brothers John and James Ponder, accepted a proper apology from the Navy for the racist therapy their family members had endured as sailors aboard their ship.
The service additionally offered the household with newly issued honorable discharges for the Ponder brothers and introduced that the discharges for the remainder of the Philadelphia 15 had been upgraded as effectively.
“That is one thing — a flawed that shouldn’t have occurred,” Larry Ponder, 72, son of John Ponder, mentioned in an interview. “My dad and the Philadelphia 15, they had been simply whistle-blowers. All they did was inform most of the people about them being mistreated.”
“They tried to do what was proper by way of the chain of command but it surely didn’t go wherever — so that they wrote that letter.”
Mr. Ponder mentioned his father by no means spoke about his time within the Navy. He discovered what had occurred when he found the discharge paperwork after his father’s dying in 1997.
Yr later, Mr. Ponder discovered an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer a couple of Black veteran granted an honorable discharge 75 years after being unjustly compelled from the Military. He contacted an lawyer, Elizabeth Kristen, who had taken on that case, and she or he agreed to help Mr. Ponder in in search of justice for his late father.
Ms. Kristen helped Larry Ponder submit a request to appropriate his father’s discharge paperwork in 2021. It mentioned John Ponder and the opposite Black sailors had suffered “sanctioned abuse and retaliation from friends and officers on the united statesS. Philadelphia.”
“My father was born and raised in Alabama,” Mr. Ponder mentioned. “He skilled numerous issues again then. He used to say among the issues they needed to undergo, discrimination, you realize, in order that wasn’t new to him. He grew up in that setting. He went to the Navy hoping that he might have a profession to have the ability to construct himself. He went into there to serve like all people else.”
The Ponder brothers had been amongst simply 18 Black males within the crew of 750 on the Philadelphia, in keeping with one account.
In keeping with a Navy history of the vessel, the cruiser was engaged in fleet operations out of Pearl Harbor on the time the 15 males signed the letter, which attested to their therapy and advisable that Black moms and dads not assist their kids enlisting within the army.
As an alternative of with the ability to select their very own department of the service like their white friends, the Black males had been “restricted to ready on tables and making beds for the officers” on their ship as so-called mess attendants, they wrote.
Within the earlier six months, the letter mentioned, 9 Black sailors on mess attendant obligation had acquired one of many Navy’s most arcane and brutal punishments: three days’ confinement with nothing to eat however bread and water. The explanation was preventing and arguing with different enlisted males, which the punished sailors mentioned was a results of the mistreatment they acquired.
“We sincerely hope to discourage every other coloured boys who might need deliberate to hitch the Navy and make the identical mistake we did,” the letter says. “All they’d develop into is seagoing bellhops, chambermaids and dishwashers.”
“We take it upon ourselves to write down this letter, no matter any motion the naval authorities might take or regardless of the penalties could also be. We solely know that it couldn’t probably surpass the psychological cruelty inflicted upon us on this ship.”
The results for the 15 Black sailors had been certainly extreme: “undesirable” discharges — a time period for what the U.S. army now calls an “aside from honorable” discharge — that eternally minimize the boys off from veterans’ advantages and inked their paperwork with an indelible stigma that brought about many future employers to steer clear.
The cruiser Philadelphia was decommissioned in 1951, and the brothers did their finest to maneuver on with their lives. Each raised households and had kids who served within the army.
The brothers signed the 1940 letter as John William Ponder Jr. and James Edward Ponder, together with Ernest Bosley, Arval Perry Cooper, Shannon H. Goodwin, Theodore L. Hansbrough, Byron C. Johnson, Floyd C. Owens, James Porter, George Elbert Rice, Otto Robinson, Floyd C. St. Clair, Fred Louis Tucker, Robert Turner and Jesse Willard Watford, in keeping with the Navy.
Primarily based on their dates of delivery, the entire 15 males are believed to be deceased and the Navy is looking for their surviving relations in order that leaders can provide their apologies to them as effectively.
Franklin Parker, the assistant secretary of the Navy who accredited the discharge upgrades, presided over the Corridor of Heroes ceremony and addressed the Ponder household with evident emotion in his voice.
“To you and the opposite households of the Philadelphia 15 sailors, I want to lengthen my honest remorse for his or her therapy whereas carrying the uniform, and in addition for the many years’ delay in taking these measures,” Mr. Parker mentioned to members of the Ponder household seated within the entrance row.
“The usual for the choice we’re acknowledging at the moment was whether or not an error or injustice occurred,” he mentioned. “Make no mistake: Right here, injustice did happen. And at the moment, in some measure we search to deal with that.”
The abuse the boys suffered was not an aberration for the Navy or the broader army on the time.
In December 1944, U.S. Marines threw smoke grenades into an encampment of Black sailors on Guam to impress a riot, in an incident that was not widely revealed to the public until months later.
Roughly 1,000 Black sailors serving in a building battalion in Port Hueneme, Calif., went on a two-day hunger strike in March 1945 to protest their commander’s refusal to advertise any Black members of the unit to the rank of chief petty officer, although many met all the necessities for development.
It was not till 1948 that the armed forces had been desegregated although an executive order issued by President Harry S. Truman, though racial strife within the companies continued by way of the Chilly Battle and past.
This summer time Congress is anticipated to contemplate the nomination of Gen. Charles Q. Brown to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who would develop into solely the second Black officer to function the nation’s most senior uniformed officer.
If confirmed, the Pentagon will be led by two Black officials for the first time in history. In January 2021, Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired U.S. Military common, grew to become the first Black defense secretary.
“My father was proud,” Larry Ponder mentioned. “He was happy with his time in service. He by no means did say something adverse.”
“He can be proud to see different individuals of shade to have the ability to have the chance to have careers and be promoted into these positions.”