Navy Celebrates Widow’s 100th Birthday by Flying Her Around Ship Named in Her Husband’s Honor

by Emily Morgan

One Navy widow had the birthday celebration of a lifetime thanks to men and women of the Navy. 

A naval base in Florida recently shared images from a one-of-a-kind birthday experience for the widow of the Navy’s very first Master Chief Petty Officer.

On Wednesday, Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla., welcomed Irma Black. Black is the widow of the US Navy’s very first Master Chief Petty Officer, Delbert D. Black.

Upon arrival, Naval officers took her on a joyride unlike any other for her 100th birthday celebration. Black was flown on a helicopter around the ship named after her late husband. Her husband was a Pearl Harbor survivor and the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Navy. He also served as the first enlisted representative to the Chief of Naval Operations. 

He and Irma were married for half a century before his passing in 2000. The two shared a son and two grandchildren. 

After Black’s celebratory ride, the naval stations shared images of Irma’s birthday flight on Facebook. After circling the USS Delbert D. Black, she asked for an aerial tour of Jacksonville.

“She wasn’t ready to call it a day and asked if she could see downtown Jacksonville. Commodore and CO obliged, of course,” they wrote on Facebook about her flight. In addition to her late husband, Irma also had a career in the Navy. She enlisted in the Navy during World War II under the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program. 

She served as a first-class seaman storekeeper. Even after her husband passed away, she has continued to support the Navy. After the trip, Black was given a framed photo from the crew of the USS Delbert Black. She then posed for pictures with several of the crew members.

Delbert D. Black’s Navy Career

During the day, they also named her an honorary Master Chief Petty Officer, the same title her husband held. 

Delbert D. Black, also known as “Del,” was born in Oklahoma. He graduated from high school in 1940. After graduation, he enlisted in the Navy on March 14, 1941. Upon completion of recruit training in San Diego, Calif., Black was assigned to the USS Maryland and was aboard during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 

On January 13, 1967, the Secretary of the Navy appointed Balck as the first Senior Enlisted Advisor, the position that would later transition into Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. 

He later became the highest-rated enlisted officer in the US Navy, serving as the enlisted representative to Naval Operations. His function was to counsel the highest ranks of the Navy on issues such as enlisted guidance, leadership, and policy. 

Black was also the first enlisted officer to write a foreword for The Bluejacket’s Manual.