Now Black, a revered figure who served as the first master chief petty officer of the Navy, is heading back to sea.
The late master chief has been chosen as the namesake for the DDG 119, dubbed guided-missile destroyer Delbert D. Black, the 60 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer.
This time, it won't be as a sailor — but as the namesake of a a his own ship. The guided missile destroyer Delbert D. Black — DDG 119 was announced jointly by Secretary of theAt a March 13 ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and current Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens announced that the ship would honor the legendary leaderthe name honoring the late master chief, who died in 2000. during a ceremony
In the audience were three former MCPON's, William Plackett, Duane Bushey and Jim Herdt, along with many other distinguished guests, both in uniform and not.
Present as a guest of honor — and named the sponsor of the ship — was Ima Black, Del Black's widow who was married to Black for 50 yearsfe of 50 years. Ima met Black after World War II, during which she served as a Navy WAVE, or Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, and rose to the rank of first class petty officer.
"Good morning Shipmates," she said. "It's a beautiful day. A beautiful day to name a ship the USS Delbert D. Black. So let me tell you a little something about this wonderful Sailor that I was married to for fifty years. As has been said, he was a gunner's mate, so that meant that he spent a lot of time at sea. He loved the sea. I often wanted to ask him, who do you love more — me or the sea?"
The 95-year old Ima told the audience that her husband was simply a deckplate master chief petty officer when he was selected to the office. Today, only command master chief's with a certain level of experience can apply for the office and she disagrees with the rules.
"I believe that all master chief's should be eligible for this office," she said.
She chronicled the advent of the office from its humble beginnings as a repurposed broom closet in the Navy Annex, up the hill from the Pentagon, and how it has grown to day to "a suite of offices in the Pentagon that are similar to the Oval Office," she said.
"At the end of four years, the office was up and running and we were ready to retire," Ima said near the end of her remarks. "We retired in 1971, and soon we heard that there would be a ship named the USS Delbert D. Black. In my heart I knew that one day this would happen, I just didn't know it would take so long. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And Mr. Secretary, when you go to Pascagoula, would you tell the shipbuilders to please hurry up, I'm running out of time!"
In honoring Del Black with this ship, Stevens made the connection that the ship would also honor all Navy chiefs and become petty officers becoming a rallying point for the Navy's collective chief's mess.
"I think it's safe for me to say that the ship that's about to be named will always be manned at 100 percent in the chief's mess," said Stevens. "They won't have trouble keeping chiefs on it, but I know they will have trouble getting chiefs to transfer off it."
A revered figured among generations of chiefs, the Navy's collective chief's mess, Del Black is remembered for establishing the role of the Navy's enlisted leader, and the ship naming is the culmination of a decade of advocacy by MCPONs to honor him with a combatant ship, believed to be the first time in many decades that a ship has been named for an enlisted person's superior performance and impact, rather than valor or personal sacrifice. Navy enlisted has been
"He was the epitome ... of what I call the definition of the chief petty officer," Stevens told Navy Times March 10. "Del Black was a quiet, humble servant leader."
Black used his new authority to give enlisted more opportunities and a bigger say in Navy decisions. He pushed to allow for changes that sound a lot like alike lot those of recent MCPONs: allowing dungarees to be worn more places on base and for enlisted to have more time off. But sSome changes were not popular.
"There comes a time when tradition becomes a hindrance and change is necessary," Black wrote in a 1970 All Hands magazine article. "I believe we have reached that time. Changes are taking place in the military and in the Navy today which will bring about a better Navy tomorrow."
The ship will be built in Pascagoula, Miss. and a homeport will be named at a later date. But Black's 95-year old widowe, Ima Black, will serve as the ship's sponsor and was present at the naming ceremony honoring her late husband.
The the Navy's naming of the ship is the culmination of over 10-years work and the efforts of multiple MCPON's who he said encouraged him to continue the effort to honor black with a combatant ship.