I was sitting at my home in Hollis, New York, on Wednesday, 14th of April 1982—I remember it so well—reading The New York Times , and I saw a picture of all these buddies of mine, the Golden 13, out to sea on a cruise. The headline said, “First Black Navy Officers Hold Reunion at Sea.” It said there were only eight surviving members, and they were all at the reunion. So I pinched myself and said, “I know damn well I’m alive.”
Right away I tried to call the guy at the Times . But then I thought, “I’m going to call the Navy. Not just the Navy, but Navy Intelligence.” So I did, and told them about the article in the paper and how I wasn’t with them. They questioned me for a little bit, then took my name and address and all that. I guess they did some checking to make sure I wasn’t a crackpot.
For the rest of that day, I must have gotten 15 or 20 calls, each wanting to know the same things: where I was born, where I entered the Navy, what ships I had served in. It turned out that I came to be “lost” from the group because for a period of time, my last name had been recorded as “Hare.” After all these calls, I got one from someone who said, “By golly, you are James Hair, aren’t you?” And then, “Can you travel? Can you be ready in three hours? We’ll have someone there to pick you up.” Sure enough, within three hours a Navy car pulled up and took me to LaGuardia. I flew down to Norfolk, and they put me up in a motel. The next morning I was flown out to meet my buddies on the destroyer Kidd (DDG-993) at sea.
They had just told the guys I was coming—and there weren’t many serious moments after that. As soon as I left the helicopter, my buddies started hugging and back-slapping and all that stuff. The Navy had been getting the group together regularly since 1977, but I hadn’t seen some of these guys since 1944. We had a grand time—it was good to be back in the fold.
In 1986 historian Paul Stillwell began interviewing the surviving Golden 13 members for the Naval Institute’s Oral History Program. The last of the group, Frank Sublett, died in September 2006. With the availability of James Hair’s volume, all but one history—that of Jesse Arbor—has been completed.
Your tax-deductible gift to this or any oral history project will be appreciated. Donations can be mailed to the Naval Institute Foundation, 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, MD 21402, or made online at the Institute’s website, www.usni.org (click “Donate”). Please stipulate that your gift is for the Oral History Program. For more information, contact Sue Sweeney at (410) 295-1054 or firstname.lastname@example.org .