Flying over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in an RF-8 Crusader, Ben Cloud never pondered his status as an officer of African American and Native American descent. His main concern was getting good photos of the Ho Chi Minh trail, and surviving the antiaircraft fire he received on every mission.
Cloud came from a middle class family from San Diego, Calif., and entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program at the onset of the Korean War. He later was selected to fly one of the hottest planes of the period, the F9F Panther.
By 1971 his career was on a tear. After commanding a squadron and graduating near the top of his Naval War College class, he was deep selected to become the Executive Officer of the carrier Kitty Hawk.
On the night of 12 October 1972, the ship was steaming off the coast of North Vietnam, launching air strikes designed to put pressure on the North Vietnamese to end the war. Several black Sailors, disenchanted with their jobs and with the outcomes of several recent captain’s mast cases, assaulted white Sailors. These attackers were soon joined by peers, and Kitty Hawk had a full-blown riot on its hands.
Rather than send in Marines with firearms, the ship’s captain allowed Cdr. Cloud to try and negotiate. In the mold of a reconnaissance pilot, Cloud went to the fantail “alone, unarmed, and unafraid,” and confronted a hostile group of Sailors. Through sheer force of personality he convinced them to surrender the makeshift weapons they were carrying and end the riot. While 60 men had been injured in the affair, it could have been much worse. Kitty Hawk launched strikes just hours later despite having just suffered one of the worst riots in naval history.