SHARE Holt Oral History Program
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James Darby, Communications Technician, 2nd Class

Serving in the U.S. Navy at the end of the Korean War, James Darby used his love of languages to serve his country, learning to be a communications technician and deciphering Russian radio communications during the Cold War.

James Darby was born on February 26, 1932. In his interview, he recalls what it was like to grow up with three brothers in a time when his neighborhood did not yet have electricity.

He also recalls the Darby boys attending Catholic school on the South Side of Chicago until, as Darby fondly recalls, they were kicked out for being too unruly. After high school, three of the four Darby boys were drafted into the Army—including James. Because he was still attending junior college at the time his number was called, however, Darby requested a deferment in order to finish his studies; when the Army refused to grant the waiver, he immediately volunteered for service—in the Navy.

Because he scored well on his enlistment exams, Darby was sent to Communications Technician School after basic training. This training consisted of 6 hours of daily language and Morse code exercises, at which he excelled.

While training in a job field requiring top-level security clearance, Darby experienced a close call, and feared getting kicked out of the Navy. He was called into a meeting in Seattle—only miles from his training station at Bainbridge Island—to discuss his security clearance, or so he thought. When one of the questions led to the topic of homosexuality, Darby was sure he had been “discovered,” meaning his military career would be short-lived. Fortunately the inquiry only resulted in a close call, and Darby was able to serve four years in the military—though his identity remained a secret during that time.

After leaving the Navy, Darby worked in the automobile manufacturing industry, but eventually settled on a career in education. He taught on the South Side of Chicago in the Public School System for over thirty years as an English teacher—and, from time to time, teaching foreign languages such as French and Russian.

He continues to promote the Navy to young people as an excellent life experience and a path for under-privileged youth to receive training and earn an advanced degree. Darby is an outspoken activist for veterans, gays and lesbians, as well as human rights. He is proud to have recently been a part of the struggle for marriage equality in Illinois, and believes that all who serve should be afforded equal rights regardless of their sexual orientations.

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