WWII Veteran James Braxton - A Lifetime of Music
James Braxton grew up loving music. After graduation from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, James attempted to follow in his father's footsteps. His dad was an alumnus of the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), so James started out studying plumbing there. James liked to joke that, “If I’d stayed there, I’d probably be a rich plumber now.” But, his heart was in music, and his destiny was with musical pipes, not plumbing pipes. He left the institute after his sophomore year to travel up and down the east coast performing on his saxophone in places like Atlantic City, New York, and Philadelphia.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States became embroiled in the world war. James enlisted in the Army on December 14, 1942 and entered active duty on June 5, 1943. He was one of over one million African-Americans inducted into the armed services during WW II. After basic training at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, he was transferred to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Thanks to his musical background and training, James’s military assignment was as a “Bandsman Saxophone - 439” playing in the Army Band. He was transferred with other band members to the Philippines where they played for the troops. Something important popped into the veteran's head at this moment, and he noted, “I married Bernice right before I went overseas.”
The soldier/musician spent several months in the Philippines. He recalled that on the transport ship back to the states, he and the other band members gave impromptu concerts on the ship for the other troops, which turned into big USO shows. He was surprised when they landed and turned in their instruments. To their surprise, the band members were each given a separate check for playing while on the voyage home. James remembered thinking, “Hey, that’s alright.” For his dedicated military service, James received the Good Conduct Medal, American Theater, Asiatic Pacific and the Victory Ribbons, and was discharged March 13, 1946 as a Tec 4.
Back home, James earned his Bachelor of Music Education from Wylie College. While there, he toured with a group called the Wiley Collegians which included his brother Robert on alto sax and his brother-in-law Roy on baritone sax. He completed graduate work in Colorado and Nebraska, and eventually receive his Masters in Music from the University of Nebraska. He returned to Tulsa to teach band at an elementary school near his home, and a long illustrious career was launched. After teaching band and orchestra in El Paso, Texas for two years, the Braxtons moved to Lubbock. It was 1960, and James went to work with his brother-in-law Roy Roberts at Dunbar as an assistant band and orchestra director. James recalled, “I probably worked at ten different schools in Lubbock over my 30 years in the school system.” James primarily played the saxophone and violin, but his role as band director was enhanced by his ability to play many other instruments. His wife Bernice was an elementary school teacher. The Braxton’s were happily married for 69 years until Bernice’s passing in January 2014. Not surprisingly, both of their children, Ruby and Thomas, became accomplished musicians themselves.
Mr. Braxton retired from LISD in 1985, but was coaxed out of retirement by his replacement, former student Mary Jo Wilson. Now nearing 98 years old, James continues to volunteer at Dunbar as a mentor and teacher to many students. Countless students have studied under Braxton over the years, and you can hear the joy in his voice as he recalls his days “teaching my kids.” He still plays faithfully at his church, Mt. Vernon UMC, where he has been a member for over 50 years.
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight