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Memorial Day Remembrance Of Philadelphia 15

  • Sunday, May 26, 2024

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic issued the following order Gen. Order No. 11:

"The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

General Logan was correct in his assertion that nearly every sector and American bore the scars reflective of the terrible and tumultuous time which was the Civil War. Remembering that great struggle, and those who had fallen, became a way not only to honor them but to bind up the wounds of the nation, as President Lincoln so eloquently urged the nation to do at his second inaugural.

From the private cemeteries in the South, to the thousands of former slaves who gathered at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865, to  remember and pay homage to the "Martyrs of the Racecourse,"  Memorial Day has become an occasion where we honor fallen service members with our most earnest thanks; our most indebted gratitude; our most respectful acknowledgement that the dedication and sacrifice was a great measure of devotion worthy of remembrance.  The Philadelphia 15 is just one example of fallen service members we pause to remember during this year's Memorial Day. 

On Sept. 23, 1940, 15 sailors assigned to the USS Philadelphia (Ernest Bosley, Arval Perry Cooper, Shannon Goodwin, Theodore Hansbrough, Byron Johnson, Floyd Owens, John Ponder, James Ponder, James Porter, George Rice, Otto Robinson, Floyd St. Clair, Fred Tucker, Robert Turner, Jesse Watford) released a public letter that described the discrimination and disparate treatment they faced aboard the vessel. For this they would receive “undesirable discharges.” 

Nevertheless, their courage served as an impetus which led to the desegregation of the military.

On June 16, 2023, the Department of the Navy announced the exoneration of the 15 African-American sailors who served aboard the  USS Philadelphia. 

Members of the Ponder family, native to Chattanooga, recently traveled to Washington D.C. to receive the official correction of records on behalf of their descendants, which was presented by Franklin R. Parker, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

The Ponder family hopes to be able to contact the descendants of the other members of the  Philadelphia 15 to share information of the correction of records with them.

May God Bless the memory of the fallen and dedicated service members everywhere. 

The Ponder Family 
Rev. Ann Jones-Pierre, President,
Chattanooga Hamilton County NAACP 
Eric Atkins 
Co-Chair Unity Group of Chattanooga 

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