By Kelly Duffy, National Museum of the American Sailor Contract Curator
Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” During the Japanese attack, 2,403 Americans were killed, of them 2,008 were sailors with another 710 sailors wounded. In total, the Navy lost eighteen ships including five battleships. One of the surviving ships was the USS Maryland (BB 46) [pictured above] which was hit twice by Japanese forces. It, however, managed to stay afloat. Aboard the Maryland was a Seaman Recruit named Delbert D. Black.
Black was nineteen during the attack and aboard the Maryland for only a short time, having enlisted in March of 1941. He was in the galley during the attack according to Delbert’s wife, Ima. “At that time when you went aboard a ship you had to take your turn at mess cooking. And so he was in the galley.”
Black served on the Maryland from 1941 to 1943 and then at the Receiving Station in Pearl Harbor until 1945. He survived multiple torpedo and kamikaze attacks while serving in the Pacific during World War II.
During his thirty-year career Black served in three wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was the first enlisted man to receive the Distinguished Service Medal. Yet, that is not all Black achieved. On January 13, 1967 Black became the first ever Senior Enlisted Advisor. The position would later become the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON).
While being relatively quiet on his experience of December 7, 1941, MCPON Black did reflect on his career in an interview not long before his death in 2000 where he said, “I was definitely haze gray and underway most of my time in the Navy, and I loved it…Sea duty was one of the most enjoyable aspects of being in the Navy to me. That’s where you relied on your shipmates, as you fought, and worked side by side. That’s what the Navy is all about.”
As President Abraham Lincoln said, “courage is not the absence of fear. It is going forward with the face of fear.” Remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor is about honoring the 2,403 Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and those who went forward in the face of fear and fought for freedom. These dog tags symbolize Black’s ceaseless bravery that began on that fateful day seventy-six years ago.
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