Newton Henry Mason, born on 24 December 1918 in New York, N.Y., enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a seaman 2nd class at New York on 7 November 1940. On 15 November he was recalled to active duty for elimination flight training at Naval Reserve Aviation Base Floyd Bennett Field, N.Y. He was transferred to Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Fla., on 6 February 1941, and three days later his enlistment was terminated so that he could accept his appointment as an aviation cadet, to rank from 1 February 1941. Mason completed his flight training at Jacksonville (10 February-9 July) and NAS Miami, Fla. (11 July-18 August), where he became an ensign, ranked from 16 July, and was designated Naval Aviator No. 8488 on 18 August. He meanwhile also attained a B.S. degree from Trinity College, and on 3 September was transferred to Advanced Carrier Training Group, Pacific Fleet, and then to Fighting Squadron (VF) 3, which was to deploy on board aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3).
On 11 January 1942, however, Japanese submarine I-6 fired a deep-running torpedo into the port side amidships of Saratoga about 500 miles southwest of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii (T.H.). Six men died, water poured into three firerooms, and the ship listed to port. Saratoga made for Oahu, where her 8-inch guns were removed, and then for repairs and modernization that included improved watertight integrity and antiaircraft armament at Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash. The departure of Saratoga temporarily reduced U.S. fleet carrier strength in the Pacific to three ships, and led to the distribution of her air group among the other carriers. The squadron meanwhile shifted to Saratoga’s sister ship Lexington (CV-2), and on 31 January sailed as part of Task Force (TF) 11, Vice Adm. Wilson Brown Jr., in command, to support a raid on the Japanese mandated islands. Mason flew a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat from NAS Kaneohe Bay, T.H., but crashed while landing on board Lexington. While Mason emerged from the mishap unscathed, his Wildcat required a major overhaul.
On 1 February 1942, Task Forces 8, Vice Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. in command, and 17, Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher in command, including Enterprise (CV-6) and Yorktown (CV-5), respectively, launched the first U.S. carrier counterattack against the Japanese occupied Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Task Force 8 attacked Kwajalein and Wotje and TF 17 struck Jaluit, Makin, and Mili. Task Force 11 supported the raid from the vicinity of Christmas Island. The attackers sank three vessels and damaged 11 more including light cruiser Katori and submarine I-23. A crashing land attack plane from the Japanese Chitose Kōkūtai (Air Group) narrowly missed Enterprise. A Mitsubishi A5M4 Type 96 carrier fighter damaged heavy cruiser Chester (CA-27) and killed eight men and wounded 38.
A Japanese Kawanishi H6K4 Type 97 flying boat of the Yokohama Kōkūtai (Air Group) spotted TF 11 en route to attack Japanese forces at Rabaul on New Britain, on 20 February 1942. Brown cancelled the strike and two waves of 17 Japanese Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack planes of the 4th Kōkūtai attacked the Americans off Bougainville in the Solomons. Mason took part in the battle while flying an F4F-3, and Wildcats of VF-3 and Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlesses from Scouting Squadron (VS) 2, embarked on board Lexington, broke-up the attackers. The carrier avoided damage from bombs and from two bombers that attempted taiatari (body-crashing) suicide dives. Fifteen Japanese bombers, three flying boats, and an Aichi E13A1 Type 0 floatplane failed to return, mostly splashed. Wildcat pilot Lt. Edward H. O’Hare shot down four of the attackers and damaged two more, an exploit for which O’Hare received the Medal of Honor. Lt. Cmdr. John S. Thach splashed a bomber and assisted in downing a second bomber and a H6K4 Type 97 flying boat. Two Wildcats fell to the enemy with the loss of Ensign John W. Wilson, and seven fighters received damage, some of these planes from Lexington’s guns.
The Battle of the Coral Sea began on 4 May 1942, the first naval engagement fought without the opposing ships making contact. The Japanese launched Operation MO, the seizure of Port Moresby, New Guinea, and points in the Solomon Islands, Nauru, and the Ocean Islands, preparatory to neutralizing Australia as an Allied bastion. Task Force 17, Rear Adm. Fletcher in command, attacked the invading Japanese at Gavutu and Tulagi in the Solomons. Japanese transports sailed from Rabaul for Port Moresby. On 7 May TF 17, which had been joined by TF 11, Rear Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch in command and including Lexington, turned north to engage the Japanese Carrier Strike Force, Vice Adm. Takagi Takeo commanding, including carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku. Douglas SBD-2s from Bombing Squadron (VB) 2, SBD-3s of VS-2, and Douglas TBD-1 Devastators from Torpedo Squadron (VT) 2, embarked on board Lexington, and Dauntlesses of VB-5 and VS-5 and Devastators of VT-5, flying from Yorktown, sank light carrier Shōhō of the Close Support Force, Rear Adm. Goto Aritomo in command, in the Coral Sea. Japanese planes sank destroyer Sims (DD-409) and damaged oiler Neosho (AO-23), which was afterward scuttled.
The battle concluded the following day, 8 May. Dauntlesses from Lexington and Yorktown damaged Shōkaku and forced her retirement. Japanese carrier bombers and attack planes struck TF 17. The few available U.S. fighters compelled the continuation of the use of Dauntlesses as an anti-torpedo plane patrol. Mason flew F-12, an F4F-3 Wildcat, during the desperate fighting, but disappeared while flying against the enemy. He subsequently received the posthumous award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation noting that “with utter disregard for his own personal safety,” Mason “zealously engaged” Japanese planes, “thus contributing materially to the defense” of the ships. The Japanese bombed and torpedoed Lexington and bombed Yorktown. Gasoline vapors flowing through Lexington ignited and triggered massive explosions that led to her abandonment, and destroyer Phelps (DD-360) scuttled the carrier at 15°12’S, 155°27’E.
The Americans sustained heavy casualties including the loss of at least 69 planes to a Japanese loss of approximately 92 aircraft. The damage to Shōkaku and the aerial losses temporarily denied the Japanese the availability of Shōkaku and Zuikaku. The U.S. achieved a strategic victory by halting the push southward and blunting the seaborne thrust toward Port Moresby. The Japanese deferred and then abandoned their occupation of Port Moresby by sea and shifted their advance overland across the Owen Stanley Mountains.
In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Mason also received the posthumous award of the Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.
This is the second U.S. Navy ship named in his honor, but the third named Mason. The first Mason (Destroyer No. 191) was named for John Young Mason (18 April 1799-3 October 1859), was reclassified to DD-191 on 17 July 1920, transferred on 9 October 1940 to the British Royal Navy, which renamed her Broadwater (H.81), and served from 1920-1940. The second Mason, an escort ship (DE‑529), was named for Newton Henry Mason and manned by a predominantly African American crew, and served from 1944-1945.
(DDG-87: displacement 9,515; length 510'; beam 66'; draft 32'; speed 30+ knots; complement 312; armament 1 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-156 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft 2 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawks; class Arleigh Burke)
The third Mason (DDG-87) was laid down on 20 January 2000 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 23 June 2001; sponsored by Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine; and commissioned on 12 April 2003 at Port Canaveral, Fla., Cmdr. David J. Gale in command.
Dark blue and gold are the colors traditionally used by the Navy; red, white, and blue are the national colors. The two chevrons commemorate the two previous ships named Mason: (Destroyer No. 191) and (DE-529). The opposing lions, which are adapted from the Mason Family Coat of Arms, represent the World War II Pacific and Atlantic campaigns. The left facing lion symbolizes Ens. Mason’s service and sacrifice in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The right facing lion symbolizes the courageous actions of the crew of the second Mason in the North Atlantic during Convoy NY 119. The trident, symbol of sea prowess, symbolizes DDG-87’s modern warfare capabilities: the Aegis Weapons System, Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, and Cooperative Engagement Capability.
The helm symbolizes a strong defense and the projection of power. The anchor refers to John Y. Mason, the namesake of Destroyer No. 191, who served as Secretary of the Navy under Presidents John Tyler and James K. Polk. The cross alludes to the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Ens. Mason. The wreath denotes the many awards, honors and achievements of the previous ships named Mason and the crewmen who served in them.
Laurel is emblematic of honor and high achievement of the predominately African-American crew of Mason (DE-529), and marks their selfless contribution to the eventual desegregation of the Navy. The shamrock is symbolic of their good fortune during arduous operations in the North Atlantic, and the warm Irish welcome afforded them on their port visit to Northern Ireland.
Islamist forces within Yemen, likely Houthi rebels, fired one or more shoulder-fired rockets or antiship cruise missiles at Swift, a hybrid catamaran formerly operated by the Military Sealift Command (T-HSV-2) but leased to the United Arab Emirates, while she carried humanitarian aid for people in the region through the Bab-el-Mandeb, on 1 October 2016. The U.S. subsequently deployed Mason, guided missile destroyer Nitze (DDG-94), and afloat forward staging base Ponce (AFSG-15) to the trouble-torn area to ensure that ships could continue to transit the strategically vital waterway. The rebels unsuccessfully attacked Mason and Ponce as they steamed in international waters in the Bab-el-Mandeb on 9 October and again three days later. The U.S. retaliated against three of the rebel-controlled radar sites in Yemen on 12 October, and Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook described the battle:
“Early this morning local time, the U.S. military struck three radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. Initial assessments show the sites were destroyed. The strikes -- authorized by President Obama at the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford -- targeted radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb. These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway. The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb and elsewhere around the world.”
Following the commissioning ceremony for Zumwalt (DDG-1000) on 15 October at Baltimore, Md., Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, revealed to the press that the Houthi rebels unsuccessfully attacked the ship a third time:
“The latest is there has been recent activity today with the Mason once again. It appears to have come under attack in the Red Sea again from coastal defense cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen,” he said. “So as you know this is the third such attack. We suffered one about a week ago. We also saw one in the middle of last week and now we see more activity.”
Detailed history pending.
Mark L. Evans
17 October 2016