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Historic African-American names adorn U.S. Navy ships

The first ship named in honor of an African American was commissioned in August 1943; five remain in active service

Compton Herald |
The USNS Henson (T-AGS-63) is a Pathfinder class oceanographic survey ship. Source: U. S. Navy

U.S. Navy ships named in honor of fallen veterans, scientist, explorer

Editor’s Note: United States Naval Ships (U.S.N.S.) are unarmed auxiliary support vessels owned by the U.S. Navy and operated in non-commissioned service by Military Sealift Command with a civilian crew.

Armed commissioned vessels and craft are called “United States Ship” or “U.S.S.”

By RUDI WILLIAMS, Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AFPS) – 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.

Compton Herald | Bars & Stripes

The first ship named in honor of an African American was the USS Harmon, 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, which was decommissioned in 1946.

Nine other Navy ships have been named in honor of African Americans.

The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington Carver 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 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 Jesse L. Brown was decommissioned and sold to Egypt in 1990.

The USS Miller 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 guided-missile frigate USS Rodney M. Davis 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 decommissioning was in 2015.

Compton Herald | USS Harmon

Poster showing the image of MAtt1c Leonard Roy Harmon with a view of the ship, the citation for his posthumous Navy Cross, and an image of the Navy Cross. Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

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. Oscar Austin’s maiden deployment in late 2002 resulted in her participation in the opening strikes of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Austin is still in active service.

The USS Charles Pinckney (DDG 91), was named in honor of African American Navy Cross recipient, Navy Cook 3rd Class William Pinckney, for heroism aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise during the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1942. He survived the battle and died in 1975. USS Pinckney is in active service. In 2014, Pinckney helped search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

This is the third navy ship named Pinckney, but the only ship named after an African American.

Civilian manned ships

The USNS (U.S. Naval Ship) Pfc. James Anderson Jr. 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 prepositioning ship, the Anderson was built in Denmark in 1979 as the merchant ship Emma Maersk. She’s in active service, based at Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, and carries equipment to support a Marine expeditionary brigade.

The USNS Henson, an oceanographic survey ship, 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, and is still in service.

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 Watson is still in service.

American Forces Press Service

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