I began by saying that I had “shaky knees at being with so many senior officers. I’m not talking about General Maloney or Admiral Austin. You have to remember that I am a retired JG [lieutenant (junior grade)], so I’m talking about all you lieutenants out there.” That got a big laugh. The closest I came to anything political was when I said, “the difference between this administration and the previous one – or a possible subsequent administration – is that they look at the country and see groups; we look at the country and see individuals.” I said that goals are important as targets and measurements, but we in the Navy Department look upon black officers as officers and that the best goal is “more, ever more, and ever better.”
I closed by noting the presence in the room of one of the last of the “Golden Thirteen,” the first black naval aviators, commissioned in World War II against the will of an all-white officer corps. “What kept them together and brought them together again tonight after years of discrimination, discouragement, and hurt?” I asked. The answer is love of the Navy – “a Navy that is stronger because of them, because of you, and which will be stronger yet when there are more like you.”
Today, new recruits arrive at Building 1405 – named “The Golden Thirteen” – at the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command for basic training. Read more about the Golden Thirteen at this military history site from Michigan State University.
Read more about my time in the Reagan administration as DASN and as assistant secretary for Manpower and Foreign Reserves in Inside Reagan’s Navy.