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Waterford Submariner Recalls Navy Desegregation, Cold War

Rep. Joe Courtney interviews Senior Chief James Mosley of Waterford at New London High School for Veterans' History Project

A Waterford Navy veteran and author spoke before a New London High School assembly on Thursday, recalling his experiences with the military’s transition to desegregated units and his service on a nuclear submarine during the Cold War.

Senior Chief James Mosley was interviewed by Rep. Joe Courtney before an audience of students who are currently taking a United States history course. Mosley, a Waterford resident, joined the Navy in 1948 and served until 1968. He has also authored a memoir entitled Life Under the Microscope as an African-American.

Mosley, 83, grew up in Pennsylvania as one of 13 children. He and his four brothers joined the military due to a lack of jobs during the Great Depression. Five days after finishing his recruit training, President Harry Truman signed an executive order desegregating the military.

Courtney said Mosley and his fellow African-American recruits had a number of groundbreaking achievements. He said they were the first black recruits to attend the submarine medical technician school and the first black medical corpsmen to be qualified to work on submarines. Mosley said he only realized the historical importance of such accomplishments later on.

“In most cases throughout the Navy I was treated like everybody else,” he said.

Mosley said he hoped to be a pilot, but was rejected on the basis of his dental exam. Instead, he went on to study to be a physician.

“I just moved on from my first disappointment,” he said. “I wouldn’t allow it to get the best of me.”

After serving aboard his first ship in 1951 and getting assigned to various schools and hospitals, Mosley went to submarine school in 1956. Two years later, he received orders to go to the nuclear programming school. He started serving on the USS Skipjack and was later part of the crew of the USS Thomas Edison, which hosted President John F. Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in April of 1962.

Later, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mosley went on his first deterrent patrol. He said the submarine had 16 missiles, all aimed at targets in the Soviet Union. Mosley said the crew never knew if an order would come down to launch them.

“Any kind of war should be a last resort,” said Mosley. “And people who have experienced war know that.”

After leaving the Navy, Mosley took a job in the purchasing department at Electric Boat with the intention of moving to the radiological controls division when there was an opening. Instead, he stayed in purchasing for 24 years. He said his proudest accomplishment came when, after being named the minority business administrator, he was able to secure the first contracts for Electric Boat from companies owned by blacks, women, and Native Americans.

“I was able in that short period of time to break ground to get three different segments of our society involved in Electric Boat’s purchasing department, and they became all good suppliers,” he said.

The interview was being filmed as part of the Veterans History Project. Courtney said this was organized by the Library of Congress and currently includes about 70,000 recordings of interviews with veterans. He said he hoped the event would inspire some students to contribute to the archive by organizing their own interview of a veteran.

“This isn’t a project that is conducted by members of Congress,” said Courtney. “It’s not possible that we can go out and interview 70,000 veterans in that period of time.”

Principal Tommy Thompson said the project would ensure the assembly a “place in history” and said the event demonstrated how one’s neighbors may have lived notable lives.

Courtney thanked Mosley for speaking to the group.

“This is an amazing story,” he said. “I really think people shouldn’t overlook the fact that despite your sort of laid-back, friendly attitude, what you were doing was historic in terms of breaking barriers and creating an example.”

Mari F February 28, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Mr. James Mosley is a local treasure, a national hero, and such an inspiration! His stories and recollection of details paint a picture of amazing achievements during a time when reaching such high goals went hand in hand with overcoming misconceptions, stereotypes and racism. So glad to see him get recognition and a place inthe Library of Congress. Thanks for your years of service Mr. Mosley!

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