Monday I found this on my facebook:
“On 27 Dec 1990, the first female commanding officer of a U.S. Navy vessel, Lcdr Darlene Iskra reported for duty on board USS Opportune (ARS-41) at Naples, Italy, serving until 1993. After retiring in 2000 and completing a Ph.D seven years later, Darlene Iskra is now a professor and an author of numerous publications about Women in the Armed Forces.”
I couldn’t help but comment, “In April 1979, LTJG Beverly Kelley became the first woman to command a Coast Guard cutter, the USCGC Cape Newhagen.”
and referenced this: http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/History/kelley_bucci.html
The link above had a throw away line, “Just as had been the case when the Coast Guard set up its first racially integrated ships’ companies during World War II, the “mixed crews” quietly settled into a working routine and went about their business with little commotion.”
This was the first I had heard of truly racially integrated ship in WWII. The Navy had none. They did man a destroyer escort and a sub-chaser with all black enlisted and all white officers, adding a few black officers later.
“…in early 1944 the Bureau of Naval Personnel assigned 196 black enlisted men and 44 white officers and petty officers to the USS Mason, a newly commissioned destroyer escort, with the understanding that all enlisted billets would be filled by Negroes as soon as those qualified to fill them had been trained. It also assigned 53 black rated seamen and 14 white officers and noncommissioned officers to a patrol craft, the PC 1264. Both ships eventually replaced their white petty officers and some of their officers with Negroes. Among the latter was Ens. Samuel Gravely, who was to become the Navy’s first black admiral.”
Near the end of the war they did add a token number of African-Americans to some auxiliaries in rating other than messmen but it was a long way from full integration.
The Coast Guard apparently handled it much differently. And as is frequently the case one man made all the difference. Enter Carlton Skinner, USCGR and the SEA CLOUD.
From December 1943 until she was decommissioned in November 1944, without fanfare or publicity, she functioned as a fully integrated ship with all ranks and ratings open to African Americans. When she was decommissioned Skinner went on to captain a Coast Guard manned destroyer escort which was also integrated.
It had been Skinner’s idea, not as a means of redressing social ills, but simply with the objective of making the best use of manpower possible. He formed the idea while serving as XO on the NORTHLAND (including the period when she captured a German weather trawler) influenced by the performance of a messman who wanted to be a motor-machinist’s mate, later CWO Oliver T. Henry, USCG.
“The proposal had to be and was based solely on military and naval effectiveness. This was because, first, that was the origin of the idea; second, because I was sure that it was the only legitimate basis for considering a plan for racial integration of the armed forces during wartime.”
The Coast Guard experience may have influenced the Navy as well.
“I had hoped it would be copied. To the best of my knowledge it was not copied, as such. However, in February of 1945, the Navy issued revised regulations permitting up to 10 per cent of general ratings in non-combat naval ships to be Negroes. I think my experiment was helpful in producing this change. I had worked before the war with Eugene Duffield who was a wartime assistant to Secretary of the Navy [James V.] Forrestal. On a trip through Washington in the winter of 1944, after the Sea Cloud was decommissioned, I visited Duffield and told him the whole story, how it started, how it worked and my convictions on the military necessity of integration aboard ship to get the maximum use of manpower skills in the population. Duffield later sent me a copy of the revised Navy procedure on this.”
A final note, the Navy has decided to allow female officers on selected submarines.