Oct 2

One of Thirteen

Friday, October 2, 2015 8:17 AM

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

The Golden Thirteen, with Graham E. Martin is in the second row, far left.

During World War II, a group of 13 enlisted sailors broke a key U.S. Navy color barrier by becoming the first African-American commissioned and warrant officers. Sixteen African-Americans had begun officer training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944, with 12 selected as officers and 1 as chief warrant officer. In October 1986 and July 1988 Paul Stillwell interviewed Graham E. Martin, one of the men who received an ensign’s commission. was one of the men who received an ensign’s commission.

“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 Martin in school before the war.

Graham Martin was born on 18 January 1917 in Tobacco Port, Tennessee, and moved to Indianapolis after his father’s early death. He graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1937. He then attended college at Indiana University, receiving 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, Martin received a fellowship to Howard University, and by 1942 he was closing in on his master’s degree in history. Then in April, he received a draft notice.

“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.

Martin 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, Martin was selected for officer training, but no one informed him or the others who were 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

Martin was commissioned an ensign in 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.”

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

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Left to right: Dennis Nelson, Frank Sublett, Graham Martin and Sidney Smith at Eniwetok.

After leaving the Navy in 1946, Martin achieved his original goal and became a teacher. He taught one year at the college level before returning to his roots, teaching history and physical education and coaching football at his alma mater, Crispus Attucks High School. He retired in 1982.

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.”

Graham E. Martin passed away on 9 May 2006.

Mr Graham E. Martin

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 credit-n.ru