When the USS Mason sailed into New York Harbor on May 25 for Fleet Week, the ship’s banner displayed a coat of arms rooted in a shamrock.
Commissioned in April, 2003, the destroyer was named for the World War II USS Mason DE529 as a tribute to the brave service of the crew – the only African-American sailors to take a warship into combat.
The story of the sailors, who went on to escort convoys across the Atlantic during WWII, is told in Proud, a movie written and directed by Mary Pat Kelly, which after a limited theatrical release has now been issued on DVD by Lionsgate.
In 1992, while researching a piece for Irish America on the 300,000 American servicemen and women who were stationed in Northern Ireland during the war, Kelly came across a story in an African-American newspaper headlined “Irish First To Treat USS Mason Crew as Americans.” The story, which told of the warm welcome the crew received in Northern Ireland and their gratification at being called “Yanks,” intrigued Kelly, who went on to make a documentary and then a movie on the subject.
Kelly also became involved in the effort to recognize the service of black Americans during WWII and, in particular, the crew of the Mason, who were recommended for, but never received, a commendation for meritorious action during Convoy NY119 – saving ships during “the Storm of the Century.”
In 1995, Secretary John Dalton awarded the men their long overdue commendations and decreed that a new US Navy destroyer DDG87 would be called USS Mason, and thus would carry the history “of the men of the Mason into the next century.” The shamrock on the ship’s banner is a nod to the original Mason’s stop in Northern Ireland.
Proud stars Ossie Davis in his last movie, playing USS Mason veteran Lorenzo Dufau as a grandfather telling the story to his grandson, portrayed by Albert Jones. Stephen Rea is Barney Garvey who guides them through Derry. John Hume, the former SDLP leader, makes a cameo appearance. ♦