Thursday, November 30, 2006

Last of the ‘Golden 13’ dies



In February 1944, the Navy commissioned its first African-American officers. This long-hoped-for action represented a major step forward in the status of African-Americans in the Navy and in American society. The 12 commissioned officers, and a warrant officer who received his rank at the same time, came to be known as the ''Golden 13.'' March 17, 1944 photo – Top row: John Walter Reagan, Jesse Walter Arbor, Dalton Louis Baugh and Frank Ellis Sublett. Middle row: Graham Edward Martin, Charles Byrd Lear, Phillip George Barnes and Reginald E. Goodwin. Bottom row: James Edward Hair, Samuel Edward Barnes, George Clinton Cooper, William Sylvester White and Dennis Denmark Nelson.
GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) – Family and friends bid farewell to Frank Ellis Sublett this month at a memorial service in Chicago, honoring the last member of the first group of African-American men to receive commissions as officers in the U.S. Navy.

Nearly 100 visitors heard family members and friends give their recollections of Sublett.

‘‘Grandpa Frank knew his attributes and his strengths and he took them out to the limit,” said grandson Anthony Sublett. ‘‘He urged me to do that, but I didn’t at the time, when I was in college. I realize now how important that is and I try to do it.”

The man who wrote the 1993 book of recollections of the Navy’s Golden 13 gave Sublett’s eulogy. Author Paul Stillwell said that during the writing of the book, ‘‘I came to know what real heroes and pioneers these men were.”

In the book’s forward, Gen. Colin Powell points out that, ‘‘...from the very beginning, they understood...that history had dealt them a stern obligation. They realized that in their hands rested the chance to help open the blind moral eye that America had turned on the question of race.”

A Navy honors team folded the flag that was presented to the widow, Susan Lopez-Sublett by Commander, Navy Region Midwest Rear Admiral Jon W. Bayless Jr.

Sublett was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., March 5, 1920. He attended school in Glencoe and Winnetka, Ill., and spent one year at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He also attended George Williams College in Chicago and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Sublett entered the Naval Reserve July 7, 1942, and attained the enlisted rate of Machinist’s Mate 1st Class prior to receiving his commission. Following commissioning, he was assigned to the Naval Training Station, Hampton Institute, Va., and then to the Naval Local Defense Forces in the 12th Naval District, San Francisco. He served with the Service Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet and the Naval Operating Force, Eniwetok Island, Marshall Islands. He was released from active duty in 1946.

Lt. j.g. Sublett earned the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

For more information regarding the Golden 13, read ''The Golden 13, Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers,'' one of the many titles that make up the Navy Professional Reading Program.