From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

James Belden, II '36

Date of birth: October 28, 1911

Date of death: October 31, 1941

Age: 30

Naval Academy Register

James Mead Belden was admitted to the Naval Academy from New York on July 7, 1931 at age 19 years 8 months.

Lucky Bag

James is listed in the 1936 Lucky Bag on the "Interrupted Voyage" page for Youngster year.


1936 Belden 1.jpg

James was lost when USS Reuben James (DD 245) was sunk by a torpedo attack from German submarine U-552 near Iceland on October 31, 1941.

From Naval History and Heritage Command:

Lt. Cmdr. Edwards, who had been in the emergency cabin, soon arrived in his bathrobe and told Yeoman 3rd Class Dennis H. Howard, to try and pick up the contact on the port quarter, and told Lt. j.g. James M. Belden, USNR, the officer-of-the-deck, to "come left." Howard immediately began "pinging" with the sound machine to pick up the contact. Edwards then told Belden that he was going below to get dressed. Appleton heard someone call down to the wardroom to summon Lt. Benjamin Ghetzler, the executive officer. Belden, writing up the radio report, asked Appleton for the time. Looking at the bridge clock, he responded: "0549." Tex Edwards left the bridge, and Belden stepped toward the helmsman, most likely to give him the order to swing Reuben James to port. It was an order, however, that he would not give.

At roughly that moment, a torpedo from the German submarine U-552, with 27-year old Kapitänleutnant Erich Topp, commanding, less than a week out of St. Nazaire, France, on her sixth war patrol, punched into Reuben James’s port side, roughly below the after end of the bridge. The explosion hurled Appleton from his feet. His head hit the overhead, he then bounced off the after bulkhead, toward the wheel. He had no sooner grabbed the helm when the second torpedo from Topp’s U-boat struck, projecting the Sailor upward through a hole in the overhead. He landed in the water near the bow, and soon found himself being pulled down by the suction, struggling mightily to reach the surface. Ultimately, the Appleton brothers would survive the horrible ordeal as would 43 of their shipmates and the solitary passenger. Tex Edwards did not, however. He went down with his ship and 99 other Sailors.

He was survived by his mother and a brother. James has a memory marker in New York.

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

November 1940

Ensign, naval reserve, USS Reuben James

Others at this command:

Class of 1936

James is one of 39 members of the Class of 1936 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of the alumni in Memorial Hall.