Race Riot on U.S. Carrier ‘Kitty Hawk’
An ugly incident in U.S. Navy history occurred on Oct. 12, 1972, when a race riot erupted aboard the U.S. carrier Kitty Hawk while on combat duty in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. More than 100, and perhaps as many as 200, African American sailors began attacking their white shipmates that night, in a six-hour brawl that lasted into the morning hours of Oct. 13. By the time the rioting was finally subdued, 46 sailors—40 white, 6 black—had been injured, 3 seriously enough to require hospitalization.
The African American sailors were rebelling against simmering, long-perceived racial discrimination, including disproportionate assignment of menial tasks and harsher punishment for offenses than white sailors received. The outbreak was not a mutiny—the frustrated sailors were not trying to take over the ship—it was an explosion of anger and violence. After the situation was brought under control, 26 sailors—all African American—were charged with assault or rioting, or both. Eventually, 19 were found guilty of at least one charge.
Four days after the Kitty Hawk riot, another racial “incident” occurred on a Navy ship, the fleet oiler USS Hassayampa in Subic Bay, Philippines. A few weeks later, there was more racial unrest and fighting aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Constellation off the California coast. Clearly, the Navy had a problem on its hands.
In response, Congress conducted hearings into the Navy’s policies and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., changed Naval Regulations and began a new program to improve race relations in the U.S. Navy.
This copyrighted article on the Kitty Hawk race riot was printed by the Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington) on Oct. 13, 1972:
33 Hurt in Carrier Racial ‘Incident’
Honolulu—(UPI)—An “incident” involving black and white crewmen aboard a carrier in Vietnam waters resulted in injury to 33 men, the Navy reported today.
A brief announcement from the Pacific Fleet Command headquarters said blacks and whites aboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk were “involved in an incident” aboard the ship yesterday, Vietnam time.
Of the 33 men injured, two were evacuated from the ship for medical care and a third was to be taken off tomorrow. The others were treated for minor injuries and returned to duty, the Navy said.
The Kitty Hawk continued operations at “Yankee Station” off Vietnam and an investigation of the incident was begun, the announcement said.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Sunday Times Advertiser (Trenton, New Jersey) on Oct. 15, 1972:
Sailors Credited with Stopping Race Fight on Kitty Hawk
Honolulu—(AP)—Fellow sailors have been credited with breaking up a racial fight that left 46 men injured aboard the attack aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk off Vietnam.
The carrier’s operations at Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf were not interrupted by the Thursday fracas, the Pacific Fleet Command said Friday in disclosing the incident.
Two of the three men seriously injured were flown to shore-based hospitals, and others were to be evacuated later, a Navy spokesman said. Most of the injuries were minor and the men involved were treated aboard ship and returned to duty.
A large group of both black and white sailors helped break up the fight and brought the situation under control through “constructive discussion,” the spokesman said.
It was believed to be the only racial incident of this magnitude on a Navy ship, he said.
The commanding officer of the ship, Capt. Marlin W. Townsend Jr. of Washington, D.C., and the executive officer, Cmdr. Benjamin W. Cloud of El Cajon, Calif., talked to the crew to learn what caused the incident in an effort to prevent a recurrence, the spokesman said.
The Navy said further details would not be disclosed until an investigation is completed.
The Kitty Hawk left San Diego for the Western Pacific Feb. 17. It had left Subic Bay in the Philippines earlier this week.
In Saigon, a spokesman for the 7th Fleet had no additional details on the incident.
The spokesman said the carrier’s 75 planes flew missions over Vietnam both Thursday and Friday after the carrier returned to combat duty.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington) on Oct. 17, 1972:
Series of Roving Brawls Cited in Racial Clash aboard Carrier
Honolulu—(UPI)—The racial clash aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk began as a fight on the ship’s mess deck and escalated into a series of roving brawls that lasted until the next morning, the Navy said yesterday. More than 100 persons were involved and 46 were injured, a spokesman said.
The Navy said the brawls involved a series of “altercations between black and white crew members” last Thursday and Friday.
A spokesman for the commander in chief in the Pacific said the “confrontations occurred in various places” on the carrier, which is off the coast of North Vietnam.
Three crewmen were injured so badly they were flown to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for “specialized treatment.” The Navy said it would not release their names because the men had asked not to be identified.
The Navy said the roving series of brawls did not interrupt the carrier’s task of conducting air strikes against targets in North Vietnam.
“There have been no disturbances aboard the ship since the initial series of events,” the prepared statement said.
A three-man task force was flown from Honolulu to the ship, operating in “Yankee Station,” to “review all aspects of the incident.”
The Navy said no charges have been filed “at this time” and no one was “placed on confinement.”
The investigation is continuing, headed by Capt. Frank S. Haak, chief of staff for Carrier Division Five.
Earlier the Navy denied reports from Pearl Harbor sources that there had been previous racial disturbances aboard the ship. The source said the carrier’s second in command, Cdr. Benjamin Cloud, had been selected because he was a black and could help “cool down” incidents.
“He was given the job because he is a good Navy officer and not because of his race,” the Navy responded.
A spokesman said the ship’s “human resources staff” was still functioning. He said it consisted of six blacks elected by “minority” men in the ship’s six major departments.
This copyrighted article about the racial incident aboard the Hassayampa was printed by the Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington) on Oct. 18, 1972:
4 White Sailors Hurt in Second Racial Fight aboard Navy Ship
Honolulu—(AP)—The Navy has started an investigation into a second racial brawl aboard a Navy ship in the Western Pacific within a week.
The Pacific Fleet Command here reported yesterday that four white sailors aboard the fleet oiler Hassayampa at Subic Bay in the Philippines suffered minor injuries in a fight aboard the ship Monday.
Eleven black sailors were confined at the Subic Bay Naval Station and charges are being prepared against them, a Command spokesman said.
The injured men were treated and returned to duty aboard the ship, which sailed from the port soon after the incident, the spokesman said.
Capt. Howard Beesley, a staff member of the Navy’s Service Group Three Command, has been assigned to conduct an investigation.
The investigation, the spokesman said, will determine the cause of the incident and whether any weapons were used.
The Navy reported last Friday that 46 crewmen of the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk off Vietnam were injured two days before in a racial clash that involved more than 100 black and white Navy men.
This copyrighted article about the aftermath to the Kitty Hawk race riot was printed by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on Oct. 23, 1972:
25 Blacks Charged in Shipboard Fight
Honolulu—(AP)—More than two dozen black enlisted men aboard the Kitty Hawk have been charged in connection with a racial disturbance aboard the huge ship off the coast of Vietnam, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet Command said Sunday.
No whites were charged in connection with the series of racial brawls that occurred during the evening of Oct. 12 and early morning hours of Oct. 13, the spokesman said.
The 25 black sailors, all in the lower four enlisted ranks, have not been confined and will remain on duty pending courts martial, the dates for which have not been set, the spokesman said.
The Navy earlier reported that more than 100 black and white sailors were involved in the series of fights in which 46 men were injured, including three seriously enough to require hospital treatment at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
The three seriously injured crewmen, all of whom requested that their names not be given, are reported in good condition and improving, the spokesman said.
The legal action against those charged in the incident will take place aboard the ship, he said.
The fights began with an incident on the ship’s mess decks in the evening hours and spread to other parts of the vessel, the Navy said.
The violence was finally ended through the efforts of a large group of black and white sailors who broke up the fights and cooled the situation through “constructive discussion,” the Navy said.
The carrier, which has a crew of nearly 5,000, has continued operating on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf since the incident, the Navy said.
The spokesman said of those facing legal proceedings, 21 were charged with assault and rioting and four were charged with only assault.
He indicated more men might be charged later.
This copyrighted article about the Navy’s reaction was printed by the Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington) on Oct. 28, 1972:
Navy Responds to Racial Disorders
San Diego—(AP)—The commander of the Pacific fleet says the United States Navy has “much to do” to calm racial tensions that led to recent disorders aboard two ships.
“Grievances must have the commanding officer’s personal attention,” Adm. Bernard A. Clarey said yesterday in a directive to the fleet. “Men who believe that they have grievances or complaints must be made aware that their views are being heard and considered.”
Clarey said he felt “deep concern” over the racial disturbances aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and the oiler Hassayampa. “We have much to do in the Pacific fleet to correct the situation,” he said.
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