Oct 2

Graham E. Martin-In His Own Words

Friday, October 2, 2015 8:17 AM

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I often comment to friends and coworkers that the hardest part of writing for me is deciding what to write. Unlike most college students, I preferred it when professors chose the topic. After all, if a semester of research and writing will make a student hate a topic, why pick something you enjoy?

After explaining the difficulty I was having in finding something different for my next blog post, a coworker suggested looking through the voluminous USNI collection of oral histories.

Not wanting to choose the famous sailors that are often highlighted, I decided to see if there were any Martins. Luckily for me, Martin is like Smith or Jones; there’s always one—and in this case two. I decided on Graham E. Martin, a member of the celebrated “Golden Thirteen.”

The Golden Thirteen, Graham E. Martin is in the second row first on the left

The Golden Thirteen, Graham E. Martin is in the second row first on the left

The Golden Thirteen were the first African-American men selected as officers in the Navy during World War II. A group of sixteen began officer training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944, with twelve selected as officers and one as chief warrant officer. Graham E. Martin was commissioned an ensign. Paul Stillwell interviewed Mr. Martin at his home, first on 10 October 1986 and then in a follow-up on 19 July 1988.

“My career objective was what it always had been—teaching. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a history teacher” p.31

A young Graham E. Martin in school before the war.

Mr. Martin was born on 18 January 1917 in Tobacco Port, Tennessee, and moved to Indianapolis after his father’s early death. He attended Crispus Attucks High School and graduated in 1937. He then went to Indiana University and received a bachelor’s degree in history in 1941.

“My career objective was what it always had been—teaching. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a history teacher.”

Following college, Mr. Martin received a fellowship to Howard University, and by 1942 he was closing in on his master’s degree in history. Then his draft notice arrived that April.

“I told them I was as patriotic as anybody, and I didn’t in any way shun the armed forces, but since what little money I had was involved in the school, I wished they would let me finish my course. So they wrote me back in a very short time and said, ‘You stay there, and we’ll contact you again.”’

Mr. Martin here as newly enlisted sailor. Effective in June 1942, the Navy began enlisting blacks for entry into the general service ratings rather than just cooks and stewards.

Mr. Martin here as newly enlisted sailor. Effective in June 1942, the Navy began enlisting blacks for entry into the general service ratings rather than just cooks and stewards.

He was drafted by the Army, but as he recalled, “I considered the Army was too dirty for me, crawling in all that mud and stuff. . . . I was supposed to report to an Army place there in Alexandria, Virginia . . . I think at 6:00 o’clock in the morning. That kind of made me angry; that’s too early in the morning. So I joined the Navy. I was supposed to report August the first. I joined the Navy July 31.”

While at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Mr. Martin was selected for officer training, only no one told him or the others so chosen. “I think that probably we had an idea that it was [officer training], but we weren’t sure. . . . We weren’t told officially.

“I think most of us felt that this was leading to something. We knew that they weren’t spending that much time for nothing, so we were hopeful that it would end up with our being officers.”

In his new uniform as a commissioned officer

Mr. Martin was commissioned an Ensign March 1944

As for being commissioned as part of that historic first wave of World War II-era African-American naval officers, “I felt good about it, and I just wondered what the next step was going to be and how they were going to use us. . . . I knew that they [the Navy] didn’t know what to do with us. I could tell immediately.”

Mr. Martin served in a patrol craft, yard oiler, and stevedore battalion on Eniwetok before ending his Navy career as a public information officer.

2

Dennis Nelson, Frank Sublett, Graham Martin and Sidney Smith at Eniwetok (left to right)

“Even though I resent[ed] it, [I thought] I’d better go ahead and do a good job, because if I [didn’t], that [would] give them something to talk about.”

Members of the Golden Thirteen at a reunion aboard USS Kidd (DDG-993) in April 1982

Members of the Golden Thirteen at a reunion aboard USS Kidd (DDG-993) in April 1982

After leaving the Navy in 1946, Mr. Martin achieved his goal and became a teacher. He taught one year at the college level before returning to his roots, teaching history and physical education at his alma mater, Crispus Attucks High School, from 1947 to 1982. He coached football there as well.

On his place in history, he reflected, “The events surrounding our becoming officers were small steps, but they led to some great things, including the integration of the armed services, so I feel pretty good about that.”

Mr Graham E. Martin

Mr. Graham E. Martin

To see a catalog of current oral histories available, please visit our website.

http://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history

Or to read more about the Golden Thirteen, please see Paul Stillwell’s book The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers drawn primarily from the oral history interviews he conducted.

http://www.usni.org/store/books/history/golden-thirteen