A hero has passed on with little fanfare.
A true warrior, in body and spirit, Thomas David Parham Jr. died on April 16, 2007. He was the first black man to be promoted to the rank of Captain in the US Navy.
Captain Parham joined the Navy in 1944 and that in itself was a struggle. He was first rejected when he tried to enlist as a chaplain; due to his skin color. It wasn't until he returned to the recruiter with a newspaper clipping showing another man of color had been allowed to enlist that he was finally accepted. After serving as chaplain at various Navy segregated supply depots, he left active duty, yet remained in the reserve. At that time there were no black men serving at sea in any capacity other than stewards for the officers.
When the Korean War started he signed up for active duty, never imagining he would be sent to sea. He was assigned to the USS Valley Forge, an Essex class aircraft carrier and a true fighting ship. When he reported for duty, the Ship's Captain thought there was a mistake and radioed the Chaplain Commander to inform him that a black man had been sent to minister to a ship comprised of a completely white crew, exclusive of the stewards. Chaplain Command responded that no mistake had been made and the Chaplain Corp did not make assignments based on skin color.
I cannot begin to imagine the experiences David Parham Jr. lived through on that ship. Whatever they were, he performed his duties with honor. I could not let his passing go unnoted.
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