Lanier Phillips was aboard the USS Truxtun in 1943 when it went aground during a storm off the coast of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, Canada. One hundred and ten crewman died in the icy elements, but Phillips, and 47 other crewmen, were saved. This video, an excerpt from, “The Lanier Phillips Story,” produced by the Naval Media Center in Washington, D.C., tells Lanier’s story from his perspective. To understand his journey, you have to know how his life started in a little town in the Deep South called, Lithonia, Ga. There, Lanier professed, he was fearful for his life and for the life of his family, as the Klu Klux Klan was a daily threat. When Phillips was old enough to escape, he did … he joined the Navy. Back then, the Navy, too, had discriminatory practices. Upon entry into the Navy, Phillips was assigned as a messman, the only place blacks were allowed to serve at the time.
“Being rescued that day changed my life. And it wasn’t just being alive … it was the treatment I got from the people of that town. They treated me, for the first time in my life, just like they treated every other person rescued. The difference was – I was a Black man and they were all White. They knew nothing about racism and segregation. They treated me like a person, a worthy human being, and for me, it was life-altering.” - Lanier Phillips
With the USS Truxtun tragedy still heavy on his mind, Phillips eventually applied to, was accepted for and successfully passed the Navy’s sonar school becoming the first black Navy Sailor to become something other than a messman. This accomplishment kicked in the door for all races to realize their dreams in The Navy.
Phillips’ Lifetime Achievements:
- Became the Navy’s first black sonar technician and vowed to do everything in his power to repay the kindness he had experienced in Newfoundland, eventually donating money to St. Lawrence for them to build a children’s playground.
- After giving speeches at schools across the U.S., Phillips was awarded an honorary degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2008 for his efforts to end discrimination.
- In 2011, Phillips was given honorary membership into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador for his work in civil rights in the U.S.
CURRENT USS TRUXTUN COMMEMORATES TRUXTUN EVENT
Post from guided missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) Commanding Officer CDR John Ferguson:
This weekend, I [had] the honor and privilege to attend the memorial events associated with the disaster and subsequent rescue efforts following the February 18, 1942 grounding of the USS TRUXTUN (DD 229) and the USS POLLUX (AKS 2) off the coast of Newfoundland. While the grounding of the ships is definitely not an event to be celebrated, the story of the perseverance of the Sailors involved and of the selfless support provided by the townships of St. Lawrence and Lawn is an admirable one.
Check back later today for more from the commanding officer and his command master chief on the commemoration.