Friday, August 17, 2007

The USS Mason 529

I try to watch a DVD every evening after the day's activities are done. It's better than TV because I get to "really" choose what I view. The movies come from the main library here in Portland, which has the largest circulation of any public library in America (that includes NYC). I stumbled across an interesting piece of entertainment on a recent visit. The movie is called "Proud". It is also the last big screen performance by legendary Ossie Davis before his death in 2005. The movie is based on a true story about a naval destroyer in WWII, the USS Mason 529, which in turn is based on a book about the history of African-Americans in the US military.

The movie's story is unique and worth sharing:

Up until 1942, admission of black Americans to the U.S. Navy was limited to slots as cooks or waiters. The movie, which is based on a book written by Mary Pat Kelly tells the story of the USS Mason; all of the positions of enlisted service were held by African Americans and the ship served as a convoy escort on six occasions across the Atlantic during WW II.

In Kelly's book, entitled Proudly We Served: The Men Of The USS Mason she presents the early lives and motivations of 10 or 12 of the young sailors and follows them through their enlistment, time in boot camp, getting rated, and selection for duty on the Mason. She details the commissioning, shake down cruise, and convoy action through to the decommissioning at the close of the war.

The book uses authentic photographs and actual commentaries of the crewmen; their reminiscences; and letters, diaries, and photographs add immediacy. Their careers to the present are also included. Like the stories of the Civil War black regiments, the Buffalo soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the like, this account covers a period of history that made great demands on an underrated portion of the citizenry and opened opportunity to full equality. She first became interested in the subject while doing a documentary on Ireland and found out that Black US servicemen had been there during the Second World War.

Kelly takes a portion of her book, to write the screenplay and direct the movie "Proud". It is a story about the first destroyer escort commissioned in 1944, with white officers but manned by an African American crew. It was released in 2004 as the first movie produced on Tommy Hilfiger's movie company THEntertainment. The ship, made precedence as an "experiment" of the US Navy, and was only sent into actual battle because of the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The ship eventually performed a variety of duties, particularly in Atlantic convoys, entirely creditably, while her crew battled weather, supply shortages, the Germans, official indifference, and the outright racism manifested both in the U.S. and abroad. That the Mason experiment in race relations took so long to bear fruit in terms of equitable treatment for African Americans in the U.S. Navy reflects little credit on that service. Rather, the Mason`s record reflects great credit on the men who manned her and now have their story told for the first time. Find out more about the movie at: and book:

Photo of USS Mason from the original naval archives.
Research info gathered from:

Now, here's a poem that's full steam ahead:

"Horizontally Folded" Sonnet

A pistol that turns out to be a
folded sheet of paper. Six clocks
with alarms but none of them set.
Spilled milk. A tumble in the grass.
Dog hair on the car seat. Northern
Lights. One Mint Julep. A road-map
tattooed to an eye lid. Bullets next
to a plate & spoon. And sealed with
a kiss. Picnic basket. Hay ride. A
mechanical voice that continues to
repeat the rules. Slick gray stone.
Gulls on a hot tin roof. California
raisins. Scented candles. The rain
in Spain eating up a plain. Elephant
ankles. 100 hiccups. Four-fifteen in
Hong Kong or permed hair leaning
on a bar in a concubine halter-top.
Rubber soles. A 12-step priesthood.
Or just blow me a butterfly kiss.

This poem first published at:
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