by Anne Pappalardo
James, 78, received a Bachelor of General Studies with concentrations in Social Science and Biology from Eastern CT State University on May 18. One of 13 children, James was born on August 12, 1929 and raised in Homestead, PA. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the US Navy because of a lack of available jobs in the area.
He was trained as a Navy medical corpsman and stationed at various naval bases throughout the US, including the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. In 1956 he became the first African American to attend the submarine medical technician school in Groton, where he graduated first in the class. He was also the first African American medical corpsman to attend and graduate from the Navy’s nuclear power school in Groton. During his career as a medical corpsman, James was assigned to tours of duty on the repair ship USS Cadmus, and on the submarines USS Volador, USS Skipjack and USS Thomas Edison.
By the time he retired from the Navy in 1968, James achieved the rank of senior chief hospital corpsman. Shortly after, he started working at Electric Boat in Groton. He retired in 1991 after 24 years with the company.
James was profiled in the 2005 book, “Black Submariners in the United States Navy, 1940 to 1975,” by Glenn Knoblock, who encouraged James to pen his autobiography. During his life, James had the opportunity to meet Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, and Thurgood Marshall.
James and his wife, Lillie, were married for 31 years before she died of a stroke in 1985. During his career with the Navy, the family relocated according to his assignments until they bought a home in Waterford, where he still resides. He has been married to his second wife, Gloria, for 20 years. James, who lost a son and stepson, speaks proudly of his remaining four children and two stepchildren.
James remains active during retirement. He enjoys gardening and traveling with Gloria. He is a member of a legislative political action team that is currently focusing on preserving veterans’ benefits. He visits the Groton Subase whenever he has the chance and enjoys joining in on pick-up basketball games with Navy recruits.
James has no plans to slow down. He plans to take a year off to write his autobiography, and the following year to begin graduate studies in molecular biology or African-American history.