The final part of our series brings us to Stewards Mate 2nd Class Leffie Martin.
Leffie Martin was born 9 May 1919 in Prentiss, Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi. His mother’s name was Mandy Howard, and he had a grandmother named Mary Hathorn whom, as an adult, he was the sole-supporter of after the death of his grandfather. Leffie was a self-employed farmer, and a married father of four children when he was inducted into the Navy on 19 September 1944. Like Orin Queen, he was given a family allowance that transferred to a voluntary two-year enlistment in the Naval Reserve, but unlike Orin Queen, his opportunities in the Navy were highly limited due to his race.
The Navy, like much of the country, was highly segregated. By 1943, there were approximately 27,000 African-American men serving in the Navy, and nearly 2/3 of them were funneled into the Stewards branch (which had just been renamed from Messman branch after public outcry). The Stewards branch was made up of African-American, Filipino, and Chinese men, and it was their responsibility to prepare food for and serve Naval officers. Stewards Mates had their own training school at Bainbridge, Maryland (created in 1943), which was where Leffie was stationed for ten weeks of training from 22 September 1944 – 4 December 1944. His initial rating was Stewards Mate 3rd Class, and he was awarded a promotion to Stewards Mate 2nd Class after completion of his training.
From NTS Bainbridge, Leffie Martin was transferred to a duty station aboard the USS Reina Mercedes docked at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. The Reina Mercedes had an interesting history in the Spanish-American War, because it was actually a captured Spanish Navy ship (captured at Santiago Harbor, Cuba in 1898), then re-purposed to the Naval Academy as a training ship and as quarters for rowdy Academy midshipmen who were serving out punishments. By 1940 and during World War II, it was primarily used as enlisted quarters and as the living space and headquarters for the Commander of the Naval Station and his family. It was sometimes humorously referred to as “the fastest ship in the fleet” because it remained fastly-tied to the seawall at the Naval Academy. Leffie Martin served on the Reina Mercedes from 20 December 1944 – 20 April 1945, when he was reassigned to NTS Newport, Rhode Island for further training in preparation for reassignment aboard the USS Portsmouth.
Leffie arrived aboard the USS Portsmouth on 25 June 1945, the date of its’ commissioning, and he served aboard for three and a half months, until issues at home regarding the care of his children necessitated his early separation from the Navy.
Leffie Martin was honorably discharged from the Navy at Naval Air Station New Orleans, Louisiana on 11 October 1945.
He died only three years later on 6 November 1948, back home in Bassfield, Mississippi and is buried there in Sweetwater Cemetery.
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