On This Page:
- Video: Justice Delayed
- Collection Connection
- Learn More: How Dorie Miller Won the Navy Cross
- The Military Today: Investigating the Medal of Honor
Level: Hangar Deck
Read directions to the 20mm Gun Case
Alonzo Swann, a Black sailor who served as an anti-aircraft gunner, spent years fighting the Navy for the Navy Cross he was awarded on Intrepid in 1944.
Video: Justice Delayed
For an audio-described version, use the video below
Alfonso Chavarrias served as a gunner’s mate on Intrepid. He led an all-Black gun crew in Gun Tub 10, an anti-aircraft gun position. On Oct 29, 1944 he was fatally injured in the kamikaze attack that also killed eight of his gunners. He left behind his parents, Mexican immigrants who had settled in California, three sisters and a one-year-old niece. In 2002, Chavarrias was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. In this photo, his youngest sister, Elouise, holds up his Navy Cross and Purple Heart.
Collection of the Intrepid Museum. Gift of the USS Intrepid Association c/o Stuart Gelband, President FCM Association. P2022.27
Learn More: How Dorie Miller Won the Navy Cross
The men of Gun Tub 10 were not the first Black sailors to receive the Navy Cross. That distinction belongs to Doris “Dorie” Miller, a hero of Pearl Harbor.
When Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, Dorie Miller distinguished himself assisting wounded USS West Virginia shipmates to safety and manning an anti-aircraft gun. Miller was one of several Black sailors to serve courageously that day, but his actions were the first to be publicized.
Black leaders seized on Miller’s story, asking the Navy how it would recognize the Texan sailor. After months of public pressure, the Navy sent Miller a letter of commendation, far less than many expected. There was an outcry in the Black press, prompting President Roosevelt to intervene. He saw Miller’s case as an opportunity to change the headlines. Roosevelt awarded Dorie Miller a Navy Cross in May 1942.
Miller was killed in a torpedo attack in 1943, but his legend continued to grow. The Navy, once reluctant to recognize his service, used his image as a recruiting tool in Black neighborhoods. Activists invoked his name in the struggle for a Double V—victory over fascism abroad and racism at home.
The Military Today: Investigating the Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award, given to service members who have risked their lives in combat “above and beyond the call of duty.” Multiple Department of Defense investigations have found that service members from marginalized backgrounds were overlooked for this medal in conflicts from World War I to Vietnam. For example, over one million Black soldiers, sailors and Marines served in World War II. Not one was awarded the Medal of Honor during the war.
Since 1997, Congress and the military have worked to honor Black, Latino, Jewish, Asian American, and Native American veterans whose courage had not fully been acknowledged. Recipients of these belated Medals of Honor include Senator Daniel K. Inouye and 20 other members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion. These all-Japanese American Army units fought valiantly overseas, even as many of their family members were held in concentration camps in the United States.
These efforts are ongoing. Each investigation brings new stories of heroism and sacrifice to light.