OBITUARY

James D. Hornfischer

November 18, 1965June 2, 2021

One of the greatest Naval historians has passed, but that accolade, along with his other talents and success as a lauded Writer, Literary Agent, book Editor, renowned Speaker, Scout Leader, devout Fisherman, distinguished Egg-Nog Mixologist, and avid Boston Sports Fan, only begins to tell the incredible life story of James D. Hornfischer, the faithful son, husband, father, and friend.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts to loving parents David and Elsa Hornfischer, Jim was an energetic child, eager and quick to learn his ABCs. His early boyhood was spent in Amherst, MA where he took his first skate on the college ice rink. He loved playing hockey and baseball, began building Revel military models and hanging them in formation from the ceiling above his bed, and with true foreshadowing asked to join a Military History Book Club at age ten.

One childhood summer, when considering vacation spots, Jim excitedly asked if the family could travel to NYC and tour the offices of his favorite MAD Magazine, to which his parents quickly agreed. Years later, with his ever-evolving appreciation of cultural satire, "Good Days at Mad", A memoir by Dick DeBartolo, was the first book Jim represented as a literary agent.

Over time, the family moved to Litchfield, Connecticut where Jim graduated high school, lettered in varsity baseball and took up trombone. He also became involved in school theatre and played on a traveling club ice hockey team. Jim could be found on most weekend nights with a close circle of like-minded obsessed friends lost in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

Jim’s close relationship with his Uncle Paul instilled a lifelong love of fishing, which Jim passed down to his own family. Like his father and grandfather before him, Jim became an avid Boston sports fan, an affliction he also passed on to his children.

When visiting colleges, Colgate was love at first sight. Jim spent the next 4 years honing his intellectual curiosity with a double major in International Relations and German. Jim spent his junior year abroad in Freiburg, Germany. While in college Jim co-founded and contributed to The Mage, a Si-Fi magazine. In his senior year Jim became executive editor of the college newspaper, The Colgate Maroon. His other campus activities included joining the marching band and the social fraternity Phi Tau where hailing from New England, his fraternity brothers quickly gave him the moniker of “Chowder".

Jim graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Colgate University in 1987 and headed to New York City, where his love of the written word steered his path towards the publishing industry, as an editor at McGraw Hill and later Harper Collins. In those early days of his career in the Big Apple, Jim met and fell in love with a beautiful traveling ER Nurse from Texas, Sharon Grace Simmons. The couple relished their time in New York City. They also loved exploring and were able to take advantage of work and travel opportunities in Hawaii, New Zealand, and Alaska.

In 1993, after several years of courtship, Jim and Sharon married and made another serendipitous decision to build their life in Austin, TX where Jim became one of the first literary agents in the state capital. He discovered an abundance of prospective clients with stories to be told and soon landed on a genre close to his heart. Jim served as a nonfiction agent with a specialty in developing compelling stories about men and women in service, whether it be historical accounts of military veterans, a diverse range of politicians, patriotism, or current events. Jim quickly grew his client list and became known as a tireless champion and mentor for many budding authors.

These were growing years, both professionally and personally, as Jim and Sharon began their family and deepened their roots in Austin. Soon they were blessed with three loving and devoted children: David James, Grace Ann, and Henry Hutchins. From this foundation, a large fellowship of friends has grown. His entire family and those lucky enough to call him dad or friend, knew Jim as reliable, curious, fun loving, sincere and so full of enthusiasm that you couldn't help but be swept up in his positivity.

Concurrently, raising their young children and growing their business, ever the seeker of knowledge and expanding horizons, Jim earned consecutive degrees at The University of Texas at Austin: an MBA from the McCombs School of Business and then a JD from UT’s School of Law. Upon completing law school, Jim and Sharon took their next step by founding Hornfischer Literary Management (HLM) and focusing on developing historical accounts of important, untold stories from both new and established writers. Jim shepherded hundreds of books into fruition all while creating lasting relationships with his authors. Often receiving praise from his many clients, one of the highest compliments Jim ever received was conveyed in a recent letter, “you changed my life,” it said, “and your editing has served as a master class I would not have received any other way." From bestsellers to award winning books known for their truth, accuracy and artistry, Jim carefully curated the clients and projects he invested himself in and was proud of each book and the writers that he helped to become published authors.

While maintaining his literary agency, Jim was encouraged by a friend and fellow publishing professional to take a leap of faith and try his hand at writing. He took a WWII story he'd known about since childhood and began focusing talent and passion toward his own writing. His first book, "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors", is widely considered a classic of Naval history. For his first effort, Jim received the Samuel Eliot Morison Award by the Naval Order of the United States. Jim went on to publish three other indelible WWII histories, all with Bantam Books: "Ship of Ghosts", "Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal", and "The Fleet at Flood Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945", receiving the Commodore John Barry Book Award and the John Lehman Distinguished Naval History Award for this epic. Jim took great pride in the fact that each of his books have been placed on the Chief of Naval Operations Required Reading List.

Jim's ability to paint vivid pictures that are both visceral and technical, while also conveying the intimate stories behind momentous events is truly enthralling. Contemporary authors and historians have referred to him as: "having the mind of a skilled historian with the heart of a lyrical poet", "the Dean of World War II Naval history", and "a tour de force narrative storyteller."

Another highlight in Jim's professional life was being introduced to the brotherhood of the US Navy SEALS and developing relationships while working within that community. A special breed of warrior, the SEALS welcomed Jim, a rare privilege that deeply touched and honored him.

Most recently, in his home surrounded by family, dear friends and a fleet of Navy Admirals and officers, Jim proudly beamed and clapped through tears of joy upon receiving the highest civilian accolade. Jim was presented The Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, for all his work presenting pivotal Naval history, increasing the professionalism and knowledge of Navy personnel and his extraordinary success at telling the Navy's story.

Jim's intellectual pursuits and depth of knowledge might suggest otherwise, but his young, spirited soul was always ready for fun whether at his beloved Frio River, a baseball game, a concert, traveling with family or friends, listening to music by a campfire, outings with the Boy Scout Troop 5 Fisher Dads, and so much more.

Usually, a man of quiet faith until it was time to sing, Jim's exuberant soul and voice resonated with great pleasure singing in the Tarrytown United Methodist Church Choir, and famously leading cherished Christmas caroling adventures, with special delight when he had cohorts to sing along in German. For Jim, music and hymns were a special bridge to the Divine, where his hope and comfort resided in his Lord.

Throughout the past two years of his illness, Jim continued to be productive, wasting no time on self-pity. Jim completed his most recent projects and will soon have three new books published posthumously: Destroyer Captain: The Last Stand of Ernest Evans, with his son David J. Hornfischer, Who Can Hold the Sea: The US Navy in the Cold War, 1945-1960 and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: A Graphic Novel Adaptation.

Jim's greatest joy and priority was always his family. Jim spent intentional time with each of his children. Co-writing, Destroyer Captain and watching David blossom as a critical writer, finding his own voice, is a special highlight for a father. He connected with Grace Ann through their father-daughter shared playlist. You might find them jamming out to Sia one day, Depeche Mode another, and at other times the music of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau showing the shared diversity of their musical interest. Jim’s special bond with Hutch was through baseball and fishing. They both recalled fondly how an amazing trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY turned into a side trip to NYC, where black market tickets to a Red Socks vs. Yankees game “might have been” finessed, and of course there was fishing on that trip too. There was always fishing. Jim kept a rod and reel in his vehicle just in case a stream or fishing hole appeared. Jim recently told Sharon that he was intensely proud of their three children, and that each of them carry within themselves a special and unique piece of him.

Jim Hornfischer died as he lived, focusing his passion and determination to enjoy the moments and people in his life. Remaining open to hope and possibility while facing reality and his Savior straight on, ready for his next step. Jim recently told Sharon, “This may sound strange, but through this illness, I have had some of the happiest days of my life. All is well with my soul.”

He is survived by his wife and devoted partner, Sharon, their children David, Grace Ann and Hutch, his parents David and Elsa, sister Amy Signorino along with many family members, friends, readers and colleagues that love and will miss him endlessly. Jim is preceded in death by his uncle Paul Bozenhard, aunt Lum Pennington-Bush, niece Samantha Michaud, brother-in law, Marc Lockard, and grandparents, Raymond & Grace Hornfischer and Ernest & Doris Bozenhard. Jim's beautiful journey and powerful example of living every moment to the fullest will be in our hearts forever.

Though we know you are gone too soon dear Jim, "Fair Winds and Following Seas."

Jim’s Celebration of Life service will be held at Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas on Thursday, June 10th at 10:30 am. A livestream of the service will be available at https://www.tumcaustin.church/memorial-service. Burial will follow at The Texas State Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, if you are so inclined, The family has requested donations can be made in Jim's memory to: The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX, where a permanent tribute is being planned in his honor. Admiral Nimitz Foundation, 328 E. Main St., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 tributes@nimitzfoundation.org or (830)997-8600 Ext 220; pacificwarmuseum.org/join-give/donations

NOTE: Jim’s archives are housed at the National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg. 311 E. Austin Street, Fredericksburg, TX 78624

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Services

  • Celebration of Life

    Thursday, June 10, 2021

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  • Interment

    Thursday, June 10, 2021

Memories

James D. Hornfischer

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Stephen Reagan

June 17, 2021

Mr. Hornfischer was an excellent writer and Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors awakened me to the heroism of Taffy 3 and especially Ernest E Evans, Commander of the USS Johnston. He inspired me to do a fund raising project to honor Evans in his home town of Muskogee, Oklahoma, that I am still working on. I was very sad to hear of Mr. Hornfischer’s passing at such young age. He accomplished a lot and touched many people’s lives. Condolences to the family.

Robery Van Keuren

June 16, 2021

I come from a Navy family I’m former Brown Water Navy ,BBRs in Vietnam. My brother did 4 years during that war on The Bonny Dick a Flat Top, my Dad was a plank owner on the Big E . Enlisted on Dec 7,1937 and was due to discharge on Dec 7 ,1942. Ended up spending the entire war on the Big E as a member of a damage control party. I had a great Uncle who served on a 4 StAcker DD in the North Atlantic in WWI. I say all this because the Navy and combat service In it run deep in my family.
The books John wrote were like living history to me and so many other Sailors. My copy of The Last Stand of the Tin CanSailors has been read by 9 former Sailors . All sign the book and write down the ship they were on and the their rate and rank.
While Johns passing was a loss to all who knew and loved him it is equally shared by all who were so moved by his gift of bringing the reader so close to the action you could feel the heat and furry of the battle.
He is with his Lord who gave him his gift he so wonderfully shared with so many.
I pray that is a comfort to his loved ones

Jack H. McCall

June 16, 2021

While I did not meet Mr. Hornfischer in person, we share a number of mutual friends and acquaintances. I did, however, like many others, get at least a sense of him from reading all of his books. His first book, "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors," has great resonance and significance with my family. You see, my wife's great-uncle was one of the men who fell in action on one of the ships Mr. Hornfischer ably chronicled in that book, the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Reading that book helped give my family members a better sense of the heroism and sacrifice of their lost kinsman, and also of his captain and his buddies. In bringing back so many tales and experiences of the sailors, airmen, Marines and soldiers that he chronicled, Jim did much the same, I am sure, for many other families. Besides preserving history and being an impeccable writer, that same gift which he gave to so many others--bringing back aspects of family members' wartime lives and service--is a priceless gift that will last for generations.

Please accept these condolences from a grateful reader, historian and former military officer. May his great, thoughtful and wonderful soul rest in peace. God bless you all.

Mark Brown

June 16, 2021

I met Jim at Tarrytown UMC in Sunday school. He was one of the smartest, kindest, and most honest people I have ever known. His presence in this world will be missed.

Anne Smallwood

June 15, 2021

I first learned of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors during a meeting when we were supposed to be working on an immunology issue, but two of us were sharing our interest in naval history and not paying proper attention to the assigned task. I have read Mr Hornfischer's other books, but that first one I listened to-- an audiobook so real and so well written that I kept having to pull to the side of the road. The care Mr Hornfischer took to properly tell the stories of the men who made such a difference demonstrated his own great character. My dad, Naval Academy Class of 1940 and 30 years in submarines, would have loved all his books and it always hurt that I didn't get to share these with him. I know Mr. Hornfischer is in Heaven and celebrating with many of his subjects, who are grateful he took the time and demonstrated the amazing skill to document their stories. I am so sorry for his family; I am sorry for the rest of us, but his life and work will be remembered always and we are richer for having had Mr. Hornfischer among us

James Flavin

June 15, 2021

I read all JH’s books. I only knew him from his great writing. From the first it was clear he was an epic evocative writer. It was always impressive how he would call out the names of the regular sailors who lost their lives.
Deep condolences to all.
God Bless all.

Todd Blomerth

June 15, 2021

Words cannot express my sadness at hearing of James Hornfischer’s death. The world was blessed by his magnificent research and storytelling, We are much the poorer by his passing.
My prayers and those of so many others who had the privilege of meeting him here in Lockhart are being lifted up for his family.

David Smith

June 15, 2021

I am deeply indebted to this writer who framed the Pacific War in such fine writing. I have all his books and always cherished each of them. Never have I read such detailed accounts of what my Dad and his fellow seamen endured during their volunteer service. This man was truly a national treasure and how I wish my father had the chance to read his words, as he was a lifelong master of words with the Associated Press, part of the generation who spoke very little about his time on his ship. We will miss Jim greatly but remember him forever.

Philip Bowles

June 15, 2021

I never met the man, but I consider his gifts as historian and writer as blessings in my life. Maybe I’m greedy, but I so wanted more books from him. The world of history should, and will, mourn him.

Tony Klimas

June 15, 2021

I never met Mr Hornfischer, but as a Naval Academy graduate from the class of 87 who served aboard ships and devoured his books, I can't quite express the gratitude I have for his amazing writing and impressive knowledge of Naval History.
Also the sadness I felt upon hearing of his loss.

He told important stories that need to be heard, perhaps now more than ever. I am thankful his words will live on, inspiring future generations Naval Officers and others who will no doubt ask themselves, as I have, whether they are truly worthy walking in the shadows of the men he wrote about.

My sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to all of his family and friends.

FROM THE FAMILY