James B. Middleton Jr., an African American World War II veteran who three years after leaving the Army Air Corps in 1946 helped establish one of the only American Legion posts in Nassau County that at that time welcomed black members, died June 6 at Glen Cove Hospital.
Middleton, who lived with his sister Eleanor in Locust Valley, was 91.
A founding member of the Young-Simmons American Legion Post 1765, and a perennial organizer of Glen Cove’s Memorial Day activities, Middleton advocated for veterans for almost his entire adult life.
By the early 1980s, he was elected as commander for all of Nassau’s American Legion posts, serving in 1981 and 1982. Former Glen Cove mayor Tom Suozzi, now a member of Congress, hired him as the city’s first veterans coordinator in 1996, a position he held ever since.
Middleton was said to have been a stalwart at the Young-Simmons post until the very end. Little more than a week before he died, his post commander inquired whether he would serve another year in key positions that Middleton held at the post, including first vice chair, post historian, membership coordinator and as a liaison between the post and house-bound or hospitalized members.
“He and guys like him are the glue that keeps the posts going strong,” said Young-Simmons Post Commander David Hubbard. “I have a void to replace which is irreplaceable.”
“He was a mentor, a teacher, an instructor to us in our command,” said Hubbard, who served during the Vietnam War. “He would work with anyone, and was just that kind of person. He was willing to work, and was well loved.”
Born on Nov. 15, 1925 in Glen Cove, he entered military service shortly after graduating from Glen Cove High School in 1944. He served as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps before his honorable discharge in 1946.
Although there were 61 American Legion posts in Nassau County when Middleton helped found Young-Simmons, blacks were generally unwelcome. Young-Simmons became the seventh “Negro post” in the county, according to a 1949 Newsday article on its opening.
Middleton was a career machinist for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, before retiring there decades ago, his sister said.
He was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Glen Cove, serving on its finance committee. Described as a quiet man with a dry sense of humor, he had a love of golf that propelled him on annual trips to the Masters tournament, in Augusta, Ga.
Suozzi, (D-Glen Cove), lauded Middleton as a “wonderful man” who was “very devoted to Glen Cove and veterans.”
“I wanted someone who everyone would support, and he was that kind of guy,” Suozzi said. “Everyone respected and admired him.”
Funeral services were Saturday at First Baptist. He was buried at Nassau Knolls Cemetery, in Port Washington.