Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer Marv Truhe joins VBC Happy Hour to discuss the USS Kitty Hawk race riot of October 12, 1972. Marv defended six of the Black sailors charged with rioting and assaults in the incident, and his story is captured in his book, Against All Tides, which sheds light on the racial injustices that took place during the investigations and court-martial trials that followed.

At the time of the riot, Truhe was a young Navy JAG officer, stationed at the 11th Naval District in San Diego. He was 27 years old and had limited experience with sea-going Navy life. The USS Kitty Hawk, a massive aircraft carrier about a quarter-mile long, was conducting daily bombing runs into North Vietnam during the ongoing conflict. The high-stress conditions on board, coupled with the racial tensions among the diverse crew of about 4,500 officers and enlisted personnel, led to a confrontation that escalated into a brutal six-hour riot.

Marv aims to provide an accurate and unbiased account of the events that unfolded during and after the riot. He wanted to set the record straight and challenge the one-sided reporting prevalent at the time, which portrayed only black sailors as assailants.

The book draws on a vast collection of original source documents that Truhe began collecting during his time in the Navy. These documents included investigative reports, medical records, and trial hearing transcripts, amounting to thousands of pages. Truhe carried these documents with him for 50 years in five banker boxes as he moved from place to place.

Truhe also had a personal cassette recorder during the trials, and every evening, he would dictate his thoughts and experiences related to the cases. These recordings would later prove invaluable in recreating the events and emotions surrounding the trials.

The racial injustices during the investigations were stark. Truhe found that the upper echelons of the ship were only investigating assaults made by black sailors, disregarding any complaints of assaults against black sailors. Even more egregiously, after the incident, the captain of the USS Kitty Hawk, Captain Townsend, brought court-martial charges against 25 black sailors and not a single white sailor, despite evidence of unprovoked assaults committed by both sides.

The trials that followed lasted approximately six months, with individual trials rather than group trials. The media extensively covered them, adding to the national attention and tension surrounding the case. The Congressional subcommittee conducting hearings during the pre-trial phase took testimony almost exclusively from white sailors and senior naval officers, leading to a biased report.

Truhe’s book meticulously documents the discrepancies in the reporting and the questionable actions of those involved. The young sailors faced pre-trial confinement, even though they were presumed innocent until proven guilty, which was a clear violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Truhe’s legal team attempted to challenge this in court, but the sailors remained locked up for months.

Listen to a witness to history who spent a lifetime setting the record straight about a key historical event.