On November 3, 1993, aboard the carrier Intrepid, a museum docked in New York City, the Navy Cross was pinned on the lapel of 68 year-old Alonzo Swann who lives in Gary, Indiana. Several points make this ceremony unique. When did he earn it? The answer, 49 years ago. Why did it take so long for him to receive it? There have been allegations of racial prejudice. What prompted the Navy to award the medal at this time? The answer - a Federal Court order.
On October 29, 1944, a Japanese Kamikaze plane, a suicide aircraft, descended on the carrier U.S.S. Intrepid while it was on station in the Pacific Ocean near the Phillipines. As others ran for cover, young deck-gunner Swann, who was barely 19 years old, and more than a dozen other young black men in his crew stayed at their position and shot away the attacking plane's left wing and most of the tail, diverting it from the flight deck. The badly damaged aircraft crashed into their position, spewing flames that claimed the lives of nine black sailors. Swann was badly burned. He was pulled from the inferno and was back in the gun station within a month.
The commander of the Intrepid promised Swann the Navy Cross. The Navy reneged and Swann and five other black gunners were awarded citations. Later, the Navy downgraded the men's medals and they received Bronze Stars.
During World War II, 3,376 Navy Crosses were awarded, only three went to African-Americans. It took a court ruling last December (1992) to force the Navy to give Swann the fourth.
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