Justice Delayed Transcript

Narrator: Military medals are awarded for acts of bravery. They also carry deep meaning for those who have served. This was true for Alonzo Swann, who found himself in a forty-year fight with the Navy for his Navy Cross.

On October 29th, 1944, Swann and the other gunners of tub 10 faced down a kamikaze attack on Intrepid, an attack that killed ten of their ship mates. The captain recognized their courage.

Alonzo Swann: He said he was very proud of us and proud of us and said he thought we were the finest young men he had ever met and that the admiral had seen it. He said, and he–he is going to give all of you Navy Crosses.

Narrator: Swann and five of his crew mates were awarded Navy Crosses in a ceremony on Intrepid. However, soon after, their award citations were confiscated, and they were ultimately sent the Bronze Star, a lesser award. Swann and others believe this happened because the gunners of tub 10 were Black.

Like most other Black sailors, the men of tub 10 worked as stewards, serving and cleaning for officers. This was the only job open to Black sailors on combat ships during World War II. Yet on many ships, including Intrepid, stewards were trained to fire the anti-aircraft guns when the ship was under attack. Many stewards served courageously in battle; Black activists of the era accused the Navy of overlooking their heroism and sacrifice.

Swann left the Navy demoralized, but four decades later, he was ready to fight for recognition. He appealed first to the Navy, but it turned him down—twice.

Swann: The only way that I’m going to get what I want is go to court and make them.

Narrator: He assembled newspaper clippings, testimony from shipmates, and Navy documents.

He even found an old Intrepid newspaper. There was his name, in black and white, under Navy Cross. Swann brought this evidence to federal court. On December 6, 1992, a judge ordered the Navy to restore Swann’s Navy Cross. In a ceremony at the Intrepid Museum, Swann finally received the medal he had been awarded decades before.

Swann: My grandchildren will be able to say their grandfather changed history.

Narrator: Swann’s victory in court gave his crew mates the opportunity to seek justice for themselves.

Swann was not alone in his quest for truth. Since 1992, the military has scrutinized patterns of discrimination related to the Medal of Honor. It has belatedly awarded the nation’s highest honor to dozens of veterans from marginalized racial and religious backgrounds.