420. Origin Stories

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Level: Hangar Deck

Read directions to Case 7A, “A Crew of 3,000”


U.S. Navy sailors come from all walks of American life and from countries around the world. Some of their origin stories may surprise you.

Video: Origin Stories

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For an audio-described version, use the video below

Collection Connection

Photograph of the crew of USS Intrepid in formation on the flight deck spelling out “Bonjour Quebec.”
“Bonjour Quebec,” 1961

Together, anything is possible. When they had the time, the crew of Intrepid would greet new ports by standing in word formation on the flight deck. In this photo, the crew extends a hearty “Bonjour” to Quebec. 

Collection of the Intrepid Museum. Gift of Charles T. Robinson Seaman 1st, 1st Division. 1-60 – 9-62. P2019.20.10

Learn More: Who Served on Intrepid?

Between 1943 and 1974, more than 50,000 men served on Intrepid. They came to Intrepid from all 50 states, overseas American territories and countries around the world. Most were young, between 18 and 25, and served a single term of enlistment in the Navy. Though they hailed from many different walks of life, the majority were white. Navy policy regarding race, nationality and gender shaped who was present on Intrepid and other seagoing combat ships. These restrictions specifically targeted Black service members, Filipino nationals and women.

Before 1945, for example, disproportionately few Black men enlisted in the Navy (and even fewer served on Intrepid) because of racist restrictions on where and how they could serve. Similar restrictions applied to Filipino citizens who enlisted in the U.S. Navy. While many immigrants served in the Navy, only Filipinos were recruited directly from their home country and automatically assigned to a single division.

Changes in Navy policy and the integration of the military opened up new occupations to Black service members and, eventually, to Filipino nationals. When Intrepid returned to service in 1954, Black sailors served in divisions across the ship. However, Navy policy toward Filipino recruits did not change until 1971.

Women were never permitted to serve on Intrepid. Federal law blocked women from serving in combat (and aboard combat ships) until 1991, nearly two decades after Intrepid left service.

Learn more about Navy policies in Mobile Guide Stop 515: Segregation at Sea, Stop 455: Filipino Sailors in the U.S. Navy and Stop 435: Women in World War II Naval Aviation.

Since Intrepid left service in 1974, the Navy has expanded opportunities for groups it had previously excluded or restricted. Women, for example, have served on aircraft carriers since 1994 and on submarines since 2011.

In 1971, Black men and women accounted for just 5.3% of Navy enlisted personnel and 0.7% of commissioned officers.  In 2020, 19.4% of enlisted sailors were Black, 5.8% were Asian American, 2.1% were American Indian, 1.3% were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 6.9% were multi-racial. 16.4% of Navy service members also identified as Hispanic. However, those changes have not reached all the way up the ranks. In 2020, only 8% of commissioned Navy officers were Black.

New forms of inclusion have emerged since the 1970s. Most notably, the military dropped its ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in 2011. Many people who would have been discharged from the Navy are free to serve without fear of investigation.

Change does not come quickly in institutions bound by tradition. Active-duty sailors and Navy veterans continue to press the Navy to offer equal opportunity towards all who serve.


Inclusive Histories on Historic Naval Ships has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.