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Capt. C.A. "Pete" Tzomes

Navy Captain (Retired) C. A. “Pete” Tzomes was born on December 30, 1944 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was the oldest of two children parented by James C. Tzomes and Charlotte Eudora (Hill) Tzomes, who instilled in him the value of hard work and discipline at an early age. Tzomes decided to pursue a career in the U.S. Navy during junior high school following a recruiting visit by a Naval Academy midshipman. Later, in 1963, Tzomes was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy after briefly attending the State University of New York at Oneonta. He graduated in 1967 and was commissioned as an Ensign.

Upon graduation, Tzomes completed submarine nuclear power training which was followed by submarine training. He was then assigned to the ballistic missile submarine USS WILL ROGERS in 1969 and served in various division officer billets before being transferred to the fast attack submarine USS PINTADO. After completing Engineer Officer qualification in 1973, Tzomes was assigned as engineer officer on board USS DRUM; and, from 1979 to 1982, served as Executive Officer on board USS CAVALLA. In 1983, Tzomes became the first African American to command a U.S. submarine when he was assigned as the Commanding Officer of USS HOUSTON (SSN 713). At the conclusion of his command tour in 1986, he was assigned as the Force Operations Officer on the staff of Commander Submarine Forces U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and oversaw the operations of all submarines in the Pacific theater. In 1988, Tzomes was appointed as the Director of the Equal Opportunity Division in the Bureau of Naval Personnel and as the advisor to the Chief of Naval Personnel on equal opportunity issues; and, in 1990, he became Commanding Officer of Recruit Training Command Great Lakes (boot camp). Tzomes then served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Inspector General before he retired from the Navy in 1994.

Tzomes was an active member of the National Naval Officers Association, including two years as a regional Vice President, while on active duty. This is a professional organization that targets professionalism and development of sea service minority officers (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard). After Navy retirement, Tzomes worked as a utility manager at Exelon Corporation until July 2012. He held various leadership positions while primarily assigned to the Quad Cities Generating Station located in western Illinois. He continued to keep abreast of Navy issues through his affiliation with the Naval Submarine League, the U.S. Naval Institute, the United States Submarine Veterans and the Navy League. His military honors and decorations include the Legion of Merit (with Two Gold Stars), the Meritorious Service Medal (with Three Gold Stars), and the Navy Commendation Medal (with Two Gold Stars) as well as various unit and campaign ribbons.

Tzomes married the former Carolyn Eason in July, 2007. Offspring from a previous marriage include a son, Chancellor A. Tzomes II, and a granddaughter, Mariana Tzomes.

Navy Captain (Retired) C.A. “Pete” Tzomes The HistoryMakers August 21, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.233

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/21/2013

Last Name

Tzomes

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

United States Naval Academy

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

C.A.

Birth City, State, Country

Williamsport

HM ID

TZO01

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth and teens

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Expect what you inspect.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

12/30/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Moline

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Steak

Short Description

Captain and U.S. navy (retired) Capt. C.A. "Pete" Tzomes (1944 - ) became the first African American to command a U.S. submarine in 1983 when he was assigned as the Commanding Officer of USS HOUSTON (SSN 713).

Employment

Exelon Corporation

Bank One, Cleveland

United States Navy

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of C.A. Tzomes' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his mother's personality and her emphasis on education

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his father's personality and his employment

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his adoption, and finding out that his adoptive father was his biological father

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his parents getting married, and his biological mother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - C.A. Tzomes describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - C.A. Tzomes describes his childhood memories of growing up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and talks about his brother, Pierre

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - C.A. Tzomes describes the geographical location of Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - C.A. Tzomes discusses how his parents settled down in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes talks about the black population in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, while he was growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes describes the segregated community in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s and 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes describes the neighborhood and community within which he grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes describes Christmas with his family

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes talks about Ebenezer Baptist Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his experience in elementary school in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his interest in sports in school and his academic performance

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - C.A. Tzomes explains his career aspirations as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his brother, Pierre Tzomes

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - C.A. Tzomes talks about the undercurrents of discrimination and racism in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes discusses the racial climate in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and talks about his first direct experience with racism in the South

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes talks about being biracial, and his observations of social perceptions of skin color

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes talks about desegregated public services in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes discusses his desire to the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes discusses his graduating class and the few role models in the community who emphasized a college education

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes talks about the importance of getting good grades

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his plans to attend college and his father's alcoholism

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes describes his application to the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - C.A. Tzomes talks about attending the State University of New York at Oneonta, and his acceptance to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his first summer and plebe year at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon the sociopolitical events of the early 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience during Plebe Summer at the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his classmate, Calvin Huey, the first African American to play varsity football for the U.S. Navy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience during Plebe Year at the U.S. Naval Academy, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience during Plebe Year at the U.S. Naval Academy, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes describes the racial climate during his time at the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes describes the racial climate in Annapolis, Maryland, during his time at the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes describes his social experience in the black community in Annapolis, Maryland while at the U.S. Naval Academy, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - C.A. Tzomes describes his social experience in the black community in Annapolis, Maryland while at the U.S. Naval Academy, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his aspirations of joining the U.S. Marine Corps, and instead applying for the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Power Program

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon the Vietnam War and his experience with racism while in the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes describes racial challenges that he faced in Norfolk, Virginia in 1964, and at the U.S. Navy submarine squadron in Key West

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes talks about training for the Nuclear Power Program and his interest in submarines

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his interview with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover for the Nuclear Power Program

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience with racism in the Submarine Nuclear Power Program, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience with racism in the Submarine Nuclear Power Program, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience as an Engineer Officer on the USS Drum, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes describes his experience as Engineer Officer on the USS Drum, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes talks about submarine officer ranks and recalls his colleague, Willie Wells, aboard the USS Will Rogers

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his assignment on the Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board and as the executive officer on USS Cavalla

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes talks about how he dealt with racial insubordination while on assignments in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his relationship with white and black officers and crew members on the USS Will Rogers and the USS Pintado

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes discusses Admiral Elmo Zumwalt's efforts to address racial tensions in the U.S. Navy, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes discusses Admiral Elmo Zumwalt's efforts to address racial tensions in the U.S. Navy, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon the results of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt's efforts to address racial tensions in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - C.A. Tzomes discusses his selection as the commanding officer of the USS Houston in 1983, and describes the command screening process

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes talks about becoming the commanding officer of the USS Houston, and the U.S. Navy's Centennial Seven

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes talks about serving as a mentor in the National Naval Officers Association

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his experience as the commanding officer of the USS Houston, and the positive feedback from his mentees

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon his first marriage

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes talks his assignment as the Force Operations Officer for the staff of the Commander for Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon the advancement of African Americans in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes discusses his service on issues of equal opportunity and racial bias in the U.S. Navy, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes discusses his service on issues of equal opportunity and racial bias in the U.S. Navy, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes describes his assignment as the commanding officer of the U.S. Navy's Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes Naval Base

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - C.A. Tzomes talks about meeting his second wife, Carolyn Eason

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - C.A. Tzomes talks about retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1994, and the Navy's Centennial Seven

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon the fall in the number of black submarine commanding officers since 2009

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - C.A. Tzomes talks about his father's death, his funeral, and the changes in his hometown of Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon his life and career

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - C.A. Tzomes describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - C.A. Tzomes reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - C.A. Tzomes describes his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

8$7

DATitle
C.A. Tzomes describes his social experience in the black community in Annapolis, Maryland while at the U.S. Naval Academy, pt. 1
C.A. Tzomes describes his experience as an Engineer Officer on the USS Drum, pt. 1
Transcript
So, here you are--$$But that's the town [Annapolis, Maryland]. I still got more to talk about the town. So, the black community--remember, Annapolis is the south--racially segregated, signs and everything, okay. So, the local community embraced the black midshipmen, totally embraced us. We had one woman while I was there, and we ended up having other women. Her name was Lillie Mae Chase. They now have a street named after her in Annapolis. And she was our mother away from home, okay. We were having times, hard times, racially. Now Plebe Year, I didn't get, I could not go out. I could not go out in the streets until starting my sophomore year, okay, except for special occasions, okay. And so, Lillie Mae adopted us. And about the time there was about--well, the whole time I was there, she probably adopted about twelve or thirteen of us. And we cried on her shoulders--anything--any problems we were having, any issues. And she did so much for helping us get through, especially when things were racially trying in Annapolis at the [U.S. Naval] Academy. And the rest of the older black community was sort of like her. So, they had the area, like I told you--not my freshman year, but like I told you about Annapolis and the black theater--I used to refer to it as the black belt, okay. That's, you know, no whites are going to go in the black belt. It's an area where, it's where a large black community exists, including a social club. And I used to, I used to go to this social club. I would take my uniform, and I would change clothes in the bathroom at the social club. And then I would go hang out there on weekends whenever I was allowed to go out in town. And then they would look out for me. For example, if they saw a police or something coming down the street they'd tell me, and I would go hide in the bathroom until the police would come in and go out, say. And then I joined a black church. We had what's called church parties. You could worship at the Academy, or you could go on church parties. The churches were the Baptist church, because I told you I grew up in a Baptist church--was a Southern Baptist. And Southern Baptists had racial issues with them. So, I went to the Academy and I said, "I am not a Southern Baptist. I'm a Baptist. I want to worship where I belong for my religion." And they let me, there was a senior at the time who was going to a Baptist church out in town. So, I went to his church. It was called--I can't remember the name of the church. I want to say Second Baptist, but I can't remember. So, we used to walk--on Sundays we had a two-person church party. Then I, for two years, it was me by myself. And then I'll never forget. My senior year, there was a plebe that I sort of introduced to the church. And we all have--each company has a company officer who was responsible for everything dealing with the companies--typically, a Navy lieutenant or a Marine Corps captain. And so, myself and Tucker were going to church one Sunday. And on Monday my company officer called me in the office and said he got a phone call from one of his contemporaries who said he saw me and Tucker straggling in the streets of Annapolis, and what were we doing, doing that? And he told me, he says, "But I stuck up for you. I told them that was you marching Midshipman Tucker to church." (laughter). So, when you talk about the racial issues, okay--although they had--the Academy--and I told you earlier about the rules at the Academy. So, all I had to do was go and say, "I'm not a Southern Baptist. I want to go to my church." And they said okay.$I had one commanding officer who tried to protect me. And I need to lead to a certain story about--. Because what got me on this, you were talking about my first wife. So, this is my--the submarine that I was assigned to be the engineer to--there's a separate qualification to get your engineer's certification, and then the assignment is nuclear. Not every nuclear trained officer is allowed to be an engineer. And there's another academic thing you got to go through. So, I'm on my, my submarine is the [USS] Pintado that I'm on. And I get certified to be an engineer. So I'm getting transferred to the Drum, to be the engineer officer on the Drum, the USS Drum. And my commanding officer calls the detailer. The detailer is the person in Washington [District of Columbia] that determines where you go and when. They're called detailers. And he says, "I think we're setting Tzomes up to fail." And that's because he was very familiar with the commanding officer of the Drum, who came from a very segregated, racist, deep rooted southern background, both him and his wife, okay. And he says, "With Tzomes being the first, you do not want to send him there under that guy." The detailer didn't listen to my captain. He says, "Does Tzomes qualify for the job?" "Yes." "Do you recommend him for the job?" "Yes." "He's going to the Drum." Okay. So, I get to the Drum, and there's a story here. Because I told you that frequently on the submarine I was the first exposure to a lot of people, as far as being next to a black person, okay. So, I'm coming here with his bias towards blacks, and I'm going to be his engineer, which is a very important job. We leave port, I report to the ship overseas. We immediately go in what's referred to as a Spec Op. That's secret missions that we did in the Cold War that you can't talk about. And you don't communicate, you're not allowed to communicate, okay, at all unless there's a disaster and you have an accident, okay. Then you have to abort your mission. So, we're underway, and the person I relieved did a terrible job, and they failed an inspection. So, the captain's got this stigma over him. And this black guy now is supposed to be able to clean it up. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, he has daily meetings with me. By the way this captain, besides the racist thing, he was so impersonal that the officers avoided him. In a wardroom, one of your favorite times of the day is to eat the meal together and socialize. In that wardroom, the captain and the oncoming, two oncoming watch officers, ate dinner together. No other officers ate dinner with them in the wardroom. So, besides this racial baggage, he's got other issues. So, he has me go to his state room every night, and we have about three hour meetings. And he gives me this list of things to do--typically thirty, forty, fifty things to do, okay. He would get up the next morning and summon me. And I'd get out of the state room about maybe ten o'clock. And then whoever worked for me that was on watch at the time, or who was going to come on watch at midnight--I would parcel out some of these things, okay. And, but I wouldn't give all the assignments out. So, he would summon me every morning about nine o'clock--eight or nine o'clock. We'd go over this list, and then he'd tear into me when I would not be able to tell him that half the list had been accomplished, okay. It went like that for two weeks. It went like that for two weeks and he told me, he says, "Engineer, I cannot deal with you." He says, "If I had the power, I would surface this submarine and take you back to port and fire you." Okay.$$This is your commanding--$$This is my commanding officer, okay. So, there's more to this.