Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Del Black died Sunday at his home in Winter Park, Florida, from a heart attack. He was 77.
A true pioneer, MCPON Black became the first Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy January 13, 1967. The position was then referred to as the Navy's Senior Enlisted Advisor prior to evolving into the current title the Navy knows today.
Black was born in Orr, Oklahoma, and grew up a self-proclaimed “Oklahoma farm boy,” before joining the Navy in March 1941. He served on board nine warships for a total of 21 years of sea duty throughout his 30-year career. This included serving aboard USS Maryland (BB 46) in Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack.
During his service in the Pacific, he saw his ship torpedoed several times and also attacked by kamikaze planes. “I was definitely haze gray and underway most of my time in the Navy, and I loved it,” Black said recently. “Sea duty was one of the most enjoyable aspects of being in the Navy to me. That's where you relied on your shipmates, as you fought, and worked side by side. That's what the Navy is all about,” he explained.
Master Chief Black's tour as MCPON covered the challenging times and issues of the Vietnam Conflict. MCPON Black quickly won support of Navy leadership for his newly established office. He was responsible for initiating the Command Master Chief program throughout the Navy to ensure proper enlisted leadership and representation.
“Not only our enlisted force, but our entire Navy owes MCPON Del Black a great debt of gratitude,” said current MCPON, MMCM(SS/SW/AW) Jim Herdt. “Americans lost a great military leader, and Sailors lost the best shipmate they could ever hope for,” he added.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay L. Johnson said, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Master Chief Petty Officer Del Black, our Navy's first MCPON. Master Chief Black was a great leader who was tireless in his pursuit of improving the lives of our Sailors and their families. We are forever grateful for his service to our Nation. He will be sorely missed by those of us who were privileged to call him our friend.”
MCPON Black remained active with the Navy even after his retirement in 1971. He stayed very involved with the Fleet Reserve Association and USO. In a recent interview he spoke of his close ties with the Navy.
“The Navy is and always will be a part of my family. I never consider myself retired from the Navy, just less active. Anything I can do to help Sailors, it is my privilege to do, and I always will.”
That was obvious in his frequent travels around the world visiting with Sailors. Last December, he celebrated his 50-year wedding anniversary with his wife Ima in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where his career began.
MCPON Jim Herdt knows MCPON Black as nothing short of a hero. “Del Black was the John Paul Jones of the enlisted force. He was the warrior, leader, gentleman, and mentor that began the long march that brought the enlisted force from the era of rocks and shoals to the elite, professional and responsible force we are today. His contributions to our Navy will be talked about far into the future, and written about for all time to come,” MCPON Herdt proclaimed.
“MCPON Black was an icon for our Navy and, to all of us fortunate to know him personally, he was our hero,” Herdt added.
MCPON Black's first eight years in the Navy were aboard ships in the Pacific. His first shore assignment, a 14-month shore tour in Washington, D.C., was where he met his wife, Ima, then it was back to sea for seven more years.
Master Chief Black was the first Navy enlisted man to be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
Black is survived by his wife Ima, in Winter Park, Florida, son Don and two grandsons in Bluntsville, Alabama.
There will be memorial services in both Orlando, Florida, and Washington, D.C., with his burial in Arlington National Cemetery at 1 p.m. Friday, March 10, 2000.
The first Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, GMCM Delbert D. Black passed away 5 March. He was a distinguished war veteran, mentor to Sailors, and hero to anyone that had the pleasure of knowing him. I had the great honor of delivering a eulogy at his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. No words can adequately do justice to the man he was, but by sharing this eulogy, I hope you will gain a better insight to the great Shipmate we lost.
in Honor of the First Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
GMCM Delbert D. Black
10 March, 2000
By MCPON(SS/SW/AW) James L. Herdt
Not often enough in our short lives on earth are we offered the opportunity to walk beside truly great men. But, by any measure or definition you chose, Del Black was truly a great man that blessed our country, our Navy and each of us with his presence. He was the naval warrior and best friend that all of us strive to be more like. He loved his God; his wife, Ima; his Navy and all of us and it showed in all he did. It was no more apparent than in the fifty years he and Ima spent together. He knew God had given her to him. And he knew she was the one not only because of her beauty and warmth, but because she was also a Sailor. You see, no civilian would do. Around all of us, you never heard Del or Ima. Instead the phrase you heard most often was Del AND Ima.
Certainly much could be written and said of his life in the Navy and even more as the first MCPON. He was my first MCPON having taken office less than thirty days before I headed off to boot camp. What's less apparent to many was his continued service to our Navy after retirement. Humble almost to a fault, he continued to serve as the example for young, and not-so-young Sailors throughout his life. Those of us that had hosted him at official functions wondered at and enjoyed the sight of young and old Sailors standing in line just to say hello to him or be beside him. Just as wonderful was to be told by Del that he couldn't go home yet; there were still Sailors that wanted to meet him and that he wanted to talk to.
His involvement with the office of the MCPON was frequent and welcome. He gave us advice on our job without inserting agenda or direction. He was the “perfect” mentor. Not one of the eight of us who has served in the office has not felt the unseen hand of Del Black on our shoulder at times guiding us, and not one of us has judged our decisions or accomplishments without in some manner comparing them to what Del would have done or said. He will always be our hero.
When I received the stunning news that we had lost our hero, I was hurt and angry. Angry because I wouldn't again have the opportunity to share time or to share the feelings I had for Del with him. So much was left unsaid. But then I realized that God knew best and meant us only good. He chose to call Del in a way that would not diminish in any way our remembrance of him as he truly was. Those of us that knew him best will always remember him as a dear friend with a zest for life, having the most remarkable twinkling blue eyes that shown with genuine mirth as he told one of his slightly naughty jokes, then laughing heartily as he bounced on one foot pumping his left arm back and forth. He filled our hearts and now we're left with a hole in them. But history will keep him alive forever as the Navy leader that forever gave the enlisted Sailor something they had not had in our history. Del Black will be remembered forever for giving “Jack Tar” both a face and a voice. And, not a better face and voice could we have hoped for. God blessed us with Del for all times and he will forever be our hero!
BLACK, DELBERT D
MCPON US NAVY
- VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 07/11/1942 – 03/01/1971
- DATE OF BIRTH: 07/11/1922
- DATE OF DEATH: 03/05/2000
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 03/10/2000
- BURIED AT: SECTION 11 SITE 496 LH
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard