Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard resident recalls tenure, and terror, aboard USS Intrepid

As Henry Mouzon Sr. conjures memories of his tenure aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid during World War II, he serves notice that, at age 87, his mind is still as sturdy as the 41,000-ton ship that carried him to the shores of East Asia and brought him home again.

"I saw many ships sink, destroyers and battleships, and we sank many of them," said the Jessup resident, who is to be honored for his service aboard the carrier next month by the Columbia-based Howard County Center of African American Culture.


The center, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, will recognize Mouzon at its research library and archive on the campus of Howard Community College.

This month, the center is gathering information on Howard County African-Africans who served in military conflicts as far back as the Civil War. Through that research one of the center's volunteers became acquainted with Mouzon, who grew up in Manning, S.C., but has lived in Howard County since 1950.


Mouzon said he was drafted into the Navy at 18, and left a farm in the rural South for gunnery school, then went on to East Asia in 1943, two years before the war ended.

Center founder and director Wylene Sims Burch said Mouzon's presence gives county residents an opportunity to speak to someone who served in wartime — and lived through history.

"He is so knowledgeable in remembering all those things that he has done," said Burch. "We are so proud of him in the African-American community."

Speaking from his home this week, Mouzon spoke of the some of the most horrific moments on the Intrepid, including torpedo hits and battles that he said nearly proved more physically wrenching and emotionally draining than he could bear.

Mouzon was injured during a suicide attack and was awarded the Purple Heart. He also recalled the ship being struck by an enemy aerial torpedo — the damage was so extensive that the Intrepid had to limp with the aid of a tugboat to Pearl Harbor for repairs.

He said during some of the more violent battles, "I thought I would never see the United States anymore."

"I remember one time I was going up the hatch to man my battle station, and a Marine ahead of me was going to his," Mouzon said. "As soon as his head got out of the hatch, a bullet cut it off, and he fell back onto me. I said, 'I could have been in his place.'

"Everybody had to stand two-hour shifts at night with a .45-caliber gun, and a lot of times I thought about putting that .45 to my head, because I thought I would never get back to the United States anymore," he said. "When your roommate, those who sleep above you, get killed, or somebody in your company gets killed, you always feel like, 'My time is next.' It was a miserable life."


Mouzon was still serving when the war ended in 1945. "That was freedom," he said, smiling. He was in Japan at the time and opted to remain in the service another six months before returning home.

"Most of my vivid memories of Japan were seeing that place after the atomic bomb hit it," Mouzon said. "Everything was burned up. Brick buildings, you wouldn't believe it. They were burned to the ground. You could smell the flesh of people who were burned up."

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After service, Mouzon decided to return to South Carolina, where he discovered that much about the Jim Crow South hadn't changed.

"I was disappointed as I don't know what," Mouzon said. "I thought because we won the war, it would be different for black people. But I found the same things that I found out were as they were when I left in the South. I was some kind of disappointed."

The Intrepid was decommissioned in 1974. In was sent to New York City and converted to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. Officials said the museum attracts more than 900,000 visitors each year.

Mouzon paid a visit two years ago. He said when museum officials learned that he had served aboard the ship, they waived the entrance fee and moved a tour bus to give him a parking space. He was also given a guided tour and furnished with a photo-filled book of his visit.


He said alterations to the ship for museum purposes make if different from its battle-ready days.

"A whole lot of things are different now," Mouzon said. "Back then we had hatches to climb up. Now they've got elevators."