- October 27, 2021
It all started five to six years ago with a phone call.
The voice on the other end came from the office of the Department of the Navy, and there was a man who was interested in speaking with Ima Black — a Winter Parker living in the Mayflower Retirement Community.
The voice belonged to Ray Mabus, who at the time was serving as Secretary of the Navy.
“They said, ‘The secretary of the Navy is on the line and would like to talk with you,’ and I said, ‘the secretary of the Navy wants to speak to me?,’” Black said. “After I fainted and picked myself off the floor, he said, ‘We are going to build this great big beautiful ship, and we are going to name it the USS Delbert D. Black DDG 119.”
Since that phone call, Black has watched as the ship dedicated to her late husband has been worked on. Most recently, she participated in a christening for the Navy destroyer Nov. 4 in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The next step for the ship, once construction is done, is the final commissioning, which is scheduled for some time in 2019, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.
The dedication of the new ship to Mr. Black, who died in 2000, is recognition for a man who was a part of the Greatest Generation, and who become a pivotal figure in the U.S. Navy.
On the day of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, back on Dec. 7, 1941, Delbert enlisted into the Navy right out of high school, becoming a gunner’s mate on the USS Maryland. He spent the next four years on that ship, fighting the Axis in the South Pacific.
During the war, Ima Black was a civilian working in a drugstore before a Navy recruiter approached her about becoming part of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
“I knew this was an answer to my prayer, because I always wanted to see the world — I knew there was a big world out there,” Black said.
After doing some basic training at Hunter College in New York, Ima Black was put into the role of storekeeper in Washington, D.C., at the Navy Exchange — where her duties included cashier work.
It was in Washington, after finishing her stint in the Navy, where Ima Black first saw Mr. Black, who was playing in a basketball game
“We were sitting in the stands, and I looked down at the basketball players, and I whispered to my girlfriends, ‘I like No. 13 — I like his legs,’” she said. “And he had a shipmate that sat (behind) him and he heard me say that, so he went to my husband to be and told him what I said.
So he looked me up — he knew what office I was in — and so he came over … and that’s how we met.”
It didn’t take long after that for Ima and Delbert to say their “I dos” as they married in 1949.
HONORING MR. BLACK
Although Ima Black left the Navy, Mr. Black continued as a career military man, where he logged in 30 years of service — 21 of which was sea duty.
Throughout those many years of service, Mr. Black received his fair share of medals and recognition, but the biggest came in 1967 when he became the U.S. Navy’s first Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy — a non-commissioned rank held by the most senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy.
“This office represents the enlisted forces of the Navy, and it was created because the enlisted forces didn’t have a voice in Washington — they needed a spokesperson,” Ima Black said. “This was before the computer and the cellphone — communication was correspondence mostly then, so he traveled a lot, and what he did was take information to the units he visited. And then he, in turn, found out what some of their problems were, and he brought those issues back to the policymakers.”
Some of those complaints made it to the House Committee on Armed Services, which resulted in policy changes, she said.
Thinking back on Mr. Black’s many years acting as the voice of the enlisted men in the Navy, along with being a loving husband, Ima Black has spent a lot of time reflecting on this several-year journey.
“It is an unbelievable honor,” Black said. “The ceremony was Saturday, so we did a dry run on Friday, and the first thing I did is I went over to the ship and kissed it.
“I just wanted to embrace the ship, because I feel like it is a part of my husband,” she said. “As I said in my remarks at the ceremony, I believe that his spirit is anchored in the hull of that ship.”