Sailors that served and gallantly fought for the country were usually buried at Arlington National Cemetery and were given the highest honor that they rightly so deserved. The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, as we know, is one of the most heavily guarded sites in the whole world. Well-trained sentinels of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard, watch the tomb 24/7 regardless of the weather to demonstrate the respect that we have for these fallen heroes. While there are some 400,000 service members and their families buried at Arlington, there are only 249 Sailors buried there. This is because, for so many Sailors, their tomb is often their ship when it is sunk, or if the ship survives, the centuries-long tradition is for a Sailor to be buried at sea.  Mostly this occurs far away from home deep in the vast ocean, but sometimes that tomb can be a short walk to shore right here in the U.S. Ships are also buried at sea as well or stripped to their bones in Breaking Yards ashore. Some more famous ships are preserved as monuments and museums and live on. A submarine chaser that served the US Navy during World War II called PC-1264, made history in its humble role and deserved a better graveyard than on a stretch of water called the Arthur Kill off of Staten Island in New York.

Laying The Keel of USS PC-1264

USS PC-1264’s journey started at Consolidated Shipbuilding Company in Morris Heights in New York in October 1943 and was launched the month after. PC-1264 was a US Navy PC-461-class submarine chaser intended to intercept and destroy German U-boats that were lurking off the United States’ coast. The less expensive and easier to construct coastal patrol boats augmented ocean-going destroyers and destroyer escorts while requiring less crew. These sub-chasers played an important role in filling the need for coastal convoy protection and anti-submarine warfare. How important?  Well, the navy built almost 350 of the PC-461 class boats during the war.

Manning The Ship

The photo shows the officers, crew, and mascot of the USS PC-1264
The photo shows the officers, crew, and mascot of the USS PC-1264. The photo was taken sometime after May 2, 1945, as Ensign Gravely reported aboard on that date, and, in the photograph, he is seated to the left of the other officers. (unknown US Navy photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in December 1941 sent a telegram to US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox in December 1941 to ask that African Americans be accepted into the Navy more than just Messmen. This was rejected, so they instead wrote a letter to President Roosevelt for their request, who did not ignore it and turned the matter to then chairman of the Fair Employment Practice Committee Mark Ethridge. They received the same negative response from the Navy.

On April 7, 1942, despite the anticipated backlash, President Roosevelt wrote his memo to the US Navy ordering that blacks would be enlisted in general service and the Messman branch beginning June 1, 1942. As a result, both the USS Mason and USS PC-1264 were manned by African American crew. Initially, PC-1264 was manned with 53 African Americans and commanded by a white officer Lieutenant Eric Purdon, who had trouble obtaining permission to dock with their ship’s crew. They were finally granted a permit from the US Military Academy at West Point to dock, opening its doors to the crew, and even providing buses and tours to the men.