USS MASON (DDG 87) is the third ship to bear the name and is the 37th ship of the Arleigh Burke Class of AEGIS Guided Missile Destroyers.
The First ship to bear the name MASON was named for John Young Mason, who was Secretary of the Navy for Presidents John Tyler and James K. Polk. The first MASON (DD 191) was a Clemson-class destroyer and was laid down by Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newport News, Virginia on 10 July 1918 DD 191 was launched 8 March 1919. The ship was commissioned at Norfolk Navy Yard on 28 February 1920. The First Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Commander Carl F. Holden.
As a result of the Washington Treaty of 6 February 1922 limiting Naval Armament, DD 191 was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard 3 July 1922. After World War II broke out in Europe, MASON was re-commissioned 4 December 1939. Under terms of the “Destroyers for Bases” executive agreement between the Unites States and Great Britain, the MASON became one of 50 ships turned over in exchange for 99-year leases on bases in the Western Hemisphere. DD 191 was transferred to the British Royal Navy in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 October 1940 and renamed the HMS BROADWATER H-81 the next day. Assigned to the Newfoundland Escort Force in July 1941 the ship patrolled the North Atlantic and guarded convoys against the German Submarine “wolfpacks” into the fall of that year. Early in the morning17 October 1941 she attacked a U-boat, one of a pack assaulting an American convoy SC-48 south of Iceland. Twenty-four hours later she herself fell victim to torpedoes of U-101 and sank the same day.
The second ship to bear the name MASON was named for Ensign Newton Henry Mason, born on 24 December 1918 in New York City. He enlisted as a seaman in the Naval Reserve on 7 November 1940 and was appointed an aviation cadet on 10 February 1941. He was assigned to Fighting Squadron Three in September 1941 and died following aerial combat against the Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 and 9 May 1942. Ensign Mason was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill and courage in the battle.
The second Mason (DE-529) was laid down by the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, in 14 October 1943 and launched 17 November 1943. The ship was commissioned 20 March 1944. Lieutenant William Blackford was the Commanding Officer. Mason served as convoy escort in the Atlantic through the remainder of World War II.
MASON (DE-529), an Evarts-class destroyer, has the distinction of being the only U.S. Navy destroyer to be manned with a predominantly black enlisted crew. This was the first time black Americans were permitted to be trained and serve in ratings other than cooks and stewards. In late 1943, the Navy announced its plan to place an all-black crew with white officers aboard MASON. One hundred and sixty black Sailors were enrolled in all fields of operational and technical training and manned the ship at commissioning. Although known as “Eleanor’s Folly” for Eleanor Roosevelt’s introduction of the idea for an all-black crew, the MASON served with distinction during World War II. During the worst North Atlantic storm of the Century, MASON was serving as an escort to a convoy of merchant ships bound for England. During the storm, the convoy was forced the break up and MASON was chosen to escort a section of ships to their destiny. With land in sight, MASON’s deck split under the strain of heavy sea, threatening the structural integrity of the ship. Emergency repairs were conducted and MASON returned immediately to assist the remainder of the convoy.
The MASON crew was recommended for commendation from their Captain, Lieutenant Commander Bill Blackford, and the Convoy Commander, Commander Alfred Lind. The commendations were never rewarded. At the end of the war MASON was assigned as a training ship operating from Miami, Florida until being decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1947. On July 26, 1947 President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, officially desegregating the Armed Forces.
Through the efforts of the Mason veterans and the author Mary Pat Kelly, the MASON story has been chronicled in the book “Proudly We Served.” Their persistence in telling the MASON story paid off in 1994 when President Clinton awarded the long-overdue commendation to sixty-seven surviving crewmembers. In 1998, the Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton made official his decision to name an Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer the USS MASON (DDG-87) in order to mark the contributions of USS MASON DE 529 Sailors equality and desegregation in today’s Navy.