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Painting, Navy ship behind sailboat
Operational Archives Branch
Naval Historical Center
805 Kidder Breese Street SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060


Papers of
Commander William M. Blackford,
1937-1945



Biographical Note

William Mann Blackford, a Commander, was born on September 8, 1915 in Seattle, Washington. His father was a doctor who founded one of Seattle's first hospitals. His father was also a dedicated sailor. A young William grew up on the family's yacht, the Sally Bruce, learning the seamanship that would earn him the respect and gratitude of his crew. In 1932, he attended Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Washington; earning in 1936, a degree in chemistry and received his first commission on May 23, 1936. In the middle of his graduate studies at the University of Virginia, he was called to active duty in January of 1941.

He attended for three months the Naval Mine Warfare School and later studied at the Submarine Chaser Training Center. He developed a skill in deep sea boating and performed his early service to the Navy as a line officer at sea.

Blackford's naval career started in June of 1937 aboard Battleship USS California as the sixth Division Officer, junior. He was in charge of the 5"/25 caliber AA battery guns. He also was in charge of training the gun crew of the 5" AA battery guns. This tour of duty ended in July of the same year. In January 1941, he was made Executive Officer on Coastal Mine Sweeper USS Frigate Bird (AMC-20). His duties now included the navigator, the personnel, and the mine sweeping officer. His battle station was bridge. This tour of duty ended in August of 1941.

Blackford was promoted to command his own ship in January 1942. The ship was an ocean- going tug named USS Pawtucket. As the commanding officer, he watched and cared for the command and morale of his men. This also ended a month later. He was then sent to the Naval Section Base in Astoria, Oregon. He held the rank of Mine Officer in charge of minesweeper operations, recruiting and personnel.

In June of 1942, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He took command of Coastal Mine Sweeper (AMC-57), USS Phoebe. He held the duty of commanding his crew and keeping their morale high during the ship's duty in the Aleutian Islands. While he was at sea, his wife Jane and their two children went home to Seattle.

His last ship duty was as commanding officer of USS Mason (DE-529). This ship was different from his other ships: the Mason and PC-1264 were the first two combatant ships designated to have majority black crews. The ship's main purpose was to escort convoy ships to safe harbor. Near the end of the war, Commander Blackford was transferred to shore duty. After the war he tried to enlist full time in the Navy, but he failed his physical exam and was forced to retire to civilian life.


Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the service report filled out by Lieutenant Commander William Mann Blackford on February 23, 1945. The report contains a listing of duties he held before and during the Second World War. The collection also contains letters written to his parents and later to his wife, Jane, dating from about 1940 to 1945.

The letters cover a large range of topics from very general to more specific areas. He writes about morale on board ship and spending holidays away from home. He tells his wife he is homesick, and discusses his chance for promotion. He describes the war and the opportunities opening to black Navy officers. He talks about leave and what the men do during free time on ship. He also expresses concern for his wife and her situation to provide the needed items for their kids during the War. He enlightens her about food on the ship and the view he sees from the ship's decks. He converses about his rich family past. He thinks about his great-grandmother, the noted abolitionist whose ideas greatly influenced the family. A crusader may not be the best commander, but he was determined to treat his crew as equals. He writes about the Mason and her special crew. His last correspondence concerns the commissioning of her shakedown.

There are two books writen about the USS Mason and her special crew.

Dunn, James A. On Board the USS Mason: The World War II Diary of James A. Dunn. Edited by Mansel G. Blackford. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996.

Kelly, Mary Pat. Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995.


Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Papers of Commander William M. Blackford, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.


Subject Headings (LCSH)

United States. Navy--History--Sources.
United States. Navy--African Americans.
World War, 1939-1945.
Mason (Ship).


Extent

0.25 cubic feet


3 June 2002