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Mr. Paul D. Richmond (1920-2006)

Paul D. RichmondBased on an interview conducted by Paul Stillwell in January 1990, the volume contains 33 pages of interview transcript plus a comprehensive index and an appendix. The transcript is copyright 2014 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

During World War II, after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1941 and being commissioned as a Naval Reserve officer, Richmond was involved in the training of new recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago. In 1942, with the influx of thousands of black sailors among the recruits, Richmond served as a battalion commander at the segregated Camp Robert Smalls. In early 1944, 16 black sailors reported to Great Lakes to undergo a two-and-a-half-month training program to become officers. Richmond devised the curriculum for the black men and supervised their training. They were commissioned in March 1944 and subsequently became known as the Golden Thirteen. After leaving Great Lakes in 1944, Richmond served on the staff of Rear Admiral John L. Hall during the 1945 invasion of Okinawa and later had shore duty in Hawaii and Japan. Following the war, Richmond returned to the Detroit area (where he had  grown up) and worked as a stockbroker for 43 years.

 

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

 


Paul Stillwell: Would you say you had perhaps a month lead time before the officer training began?

Mr. Richmond: No more than that certainly. I think Commander Armstrong just told me, “We’ve got these candidates selected.” I had nothing to do with the selection, and I don’t to this day know the particulars of how they were selected. To my recollection, out of the 13, at least ten had gone through Camp Robert Smalls for basic training. And what we tried to do was to set up a program that would parallel the program for the so-called 90-day wonders that were trained at Columbia and other universities.[*]

Paul Stillwell: Where did you get the curriculum that you used?

Mr. Richmond: I just made it up actually from remembering my own training. You see, I was only two years out of the Naval Academy, and what I tried to do was to give the officer candidates just an abbreviated course in the subjects that we had studied at Annapolis in a professional way. Nearly all of these men were college graduates to start out with. I gave them U.S. Navy 101. I selected subjects like seamanship, navigation, gunnery, naval regulations, naval law. We took them to the rifle range, and we had an antiaircraft simulator that we used to fire.

Paul Stillwell: Could you describe in a little more detail what the antiaircraft simulator was like?The Golden Thirteen

Mr. Richmond: Well, it was housed in a small building that would hold maybe 50 men, and it ran movies of planes attacking a ship. It was not unlike the little mechanical shooting galleries that you see in the amusement parks, only on a much larger scale. At the rear of the building they had a simulated antiaircraft gun that you could point at these targets on the screen. If you were on the target, a buzzer rang, and if you weren’t on the target, it didn’t ring.

Paul Stillwell: Do you recall any shooting with actual antiaircraft guns?[†]

Mr. Richmond: Oh, no.

There was an interesting thing that happened with Gordon Buhrer, my roommate from the Naval Academy, who came to visit me.[‡] He’d been the gunnery officer on a destroyer and participated in the landing at North Africa. He was sitting in watching this thing, and some of the chiefs who were conducting the class said, “Would you like to take a shot at it, Lieutenant?”

And he said, “I’d love to.” So he got up, and they ran the planes by him, and he shot a couple of times here and there, and the buzzer rang.

And they said, “Hang on it, there. You’re doing great.”

And he didn’t particularly hold the trigger down. Finally he said, “Well, that’s enough.”

They said, “You could have been on that buzzer all the time with your ability.”

He said, “I’ll tell you a couple of things. If you were swinging a gun around and firing the way you fellows are doing it, you’d shoot down all the rigging on your ship. Plus which, you heat up the gun barrel, and it would jam on you. And, thirdly, that plane ain’t going to fly no more anyway.” So he got kind of a kick out of it, and the men appreciated the input from someone who had actually been there.

Paul Stillwell: How did you pick the instructors for the individual subjects?

Mr. Richmond: We took the men that were best qualified for it. We had lawyers there who were in the legal department, and they taught the subjects in naval regulations and law. I taught the classes in navigation and gunnery, because I figured I was the most qualified. Then Lieutenant Dille, as he has pointed out in his interview, was more of a morale officer and a counselor for them, and he really spent more time individually with the men. He doesn’t quite remember how he got assigned to it, but that was his job, and he did an excellent job at it. It wasn’t my job to do that, I didn’t feel, and I never did socialize with them or fraternize. I didn’t think it was proper for a schoolteacher to be in that capacity.

Paul Stillwell: Was this viewed as an experiment—to see whether blacks could become officers?

Mr. Richmond: I didn’t think it was an experiment. It was a fact. We were making them officers. The assignment was, “Train them, and they’re going to be commissioned.” I personally tried to make it as difficult for them as I possibly could so that they would get the best training. If I might have scared them a little bit that they weren’t going to make it, it was on purpose—a way of motivating them. I had no particular intentions of purposely flunking anybody. I personally thought that they all were going to make it. There was a great divergence of ability and previous training, so that some of them learned some things faster than others. And others were stronger in another phase.

Paul Stillwell: The individuals that I’ve interviewed have made the point that at night they blocked out the light from their barracks. They would study in the head after they were supposed to be in bed. I take it you really didn’t have that much objection to them studying together.

Mr. Richmond: No, I had no objection. I just wanted them to learn the material. I think that was great, if they were helping each other. I wasn’t aware of the extent that they may have stayed up, but we did that at the Naval Academy too.

Paul Stillwell: So it wouldn’t have bothered you had you found out they were staying up past taps?

Mr. Richmond: No way would it bother me.

Paul Stillwell: In fact, you may have been impressed by their motivation.

Mr. Richmond: I was.

(Note: Due to edits, corrections, and/or amendments to the original transcription draft, there are some inconsistencies between the recording and the text.)


[*] Under the V-7 program, volunteers with sufficient secondary education—typically, bachelor’s degrees— were trained as Naval Reserve officers for surface ships.

[†] In the oral histories of the Golden Thirteen members, a few did provide recollections of antiaircraft practice with real guns rather than simulators.

[‡] Lieutenant (junior grade) Gordon C. Buhrer, USN. As an ensign he had been assigned to USS Ludlow (DD-438) during the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942.

 


 
 

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