New Book: 50 Year Anniversary of ‘Race Riot’ Aboard Aircraft Carrier Kitty Hawk — Only Black Sailors Punished

by on November 21, 2022 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, History, San Diego

New book by Navy lawyer who defended accused Black sailors documents one-sided investigation, dubious testimony and other injustices in case that rocked the military

By John Wilkens / San Diego Union-Tribune / Nov. 20, 2022 (Only for subscribers)

For 50 years, Marv Truhe kept the boxes. He moved from San Diego to South Dakota, from South Dakota to Colorado, and a lot of belongings came and went. Not those boxes. There were five of them, cardboard Bankers Boxes filled with official investigations, witness interviews, medical reports, trial transcripts and other documents from an incident that rocked the U.S. Navy in October 1972: a Black vs. White race riot aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.

“I knew some day I wanted to tell the full story,” Truhe said.  He was a 27-year-old Navy JAG lawyer back then, at the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego, where he represented six of the sailors accused in the riot. His clients, like all of the other 19 original defendants, were Black.

The melee involved chains, pipes and whatever else in the way of weapons the crew members could get their hands on. It went on for six hours and left more than 50 service members injured, a handful hurt so badly they had to be flown off the ship.

It also attracted nationwide attention at a time of explosive racial tensions affecting various parts of American society, not just the military. A congressional subcommittee investigated behind closed doors and issued a report three months later that focused on what it called “more relaxed discipline in the military services.”

The report rejected any suggestion of institutional prejudice in the Navy and blamed the Kitty Hawk riot on a small number of “thugs,” all of them Black. Most were “below-average mental capacity,” the subcommittee said, and probably never should have been accepted into military service. Not many people — in the Navy, in Congress, in the media — asked the question that bothered Truhe from the outset: If this was interracial fighting that left service members on both sides injured, why were only Black crewmen being prosecuted?

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