On October 12, 1972, racial violence breaks out on board a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Kitty Hawk. The riot involved more than 100 sailors, where it ended with several men being injured while the ship was en route to the station in Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam. The main reason for the riot’s breakout was when a black man was questioned about a supposed squabble that took place during the crew’s liberty (authorized absence) in Subic Bay, Philippines. The sailor refused to answer the questions. He and his friends were later caught up in a fight that left about sixty men being injured. Only the 26 black men who were involved in the brawl were charged with assault and rioting. They were obliged to appear before a court-martial in San Diego.
Four days after the USS Kitty Hawk incident, a similar occurrence happened on board the USS Hassayampa, a fleet oiler docked in Subic Bay. The group of 12 black sailors told officers that someone in the group apparently stole the money from one of them and demanded its return. They told officers that they would not sail when the ship was to go out to sea unless their demand was met. The acting leader of the ship failed to address the situation in a timely manner. Later that day, a group of seven white men decided to beat the black sailors to teach them a lesson. Peace was restored on board only after help came from a Marine detachment. Only six black sailors involved were charged with assault and rioting.
The incidents on board the two ships clearly showed that racial problems in the Navy were rampant. All services had similar incidents but the Navy was clearly the worst in controlling the said social issues, as seen in what happened on board the Kitty Hawk and the Hassayampa. The racial injustice was recognized by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations, and instituted that new race relations programs be made. This led to significant changes in the Naval Regulations, where black sailors’ will already have room to be heard.