One of the greatest Naval historians has passed, but that accolade, along with his other talents and successes 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. he died on June 2, 2021, at the age of 55.
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, 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.
Offered a choice on a family vacation, Jim’s selected was a trip to NYC to tour the offices of his favorite MAD Magazine. Years later, this same sensibility, inspired the first book he represented as a literary agent. Good Days at Mad, A memoir by Dick DeBartolo.
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, 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 The Mage, a Si-Fi magazine and in his senior year, became executive editor of the college newspaper, The Colgate Maroon. Jim’s other interests included joining marching band, and the social fraternity Phi Tau where hailing from New England, his fraternity brothers quickly given the moniker of “Chowder”.
Jim graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Colgate University in 1987 and headed to NYC, 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 NYC, 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’s 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. Jim quickly grew his client list, whether it be historical accounts of military veterans, a diverse range of politicians, patriotism, or current events. Jim quickly 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 it.
Concurrently raising their young children and growing his client roster, 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 while 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 recall 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 different piece of him as their own.
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 was well with his 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, and colleagues that love and will miss him dearly. Jim is preceded in death by his uncle Paul Bozenhard, his aunt Lum Pennington-Bush, his niece Samantha Michaud, his brother-in law, Marc Lockard, and his 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 their hearts forever.
Jim’s Celebration of Life service will be held at Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, on June 10th, at 10:30 am, with a burial afterward at The Texas State Cemetery. All are invited to attend.
Though we know you are gone too soon dear Jim, “Fair Winds and Following Seas.”
In lieu of flowers, if you are inclined to do so, Jim’s 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. 311 E. Austin Street, Fredericksburg, TX 78624.
Jim’s parents will be honoring him in Framingham with a bench and memorial bricks with his book titles in a the (now being upgraded) veterans memorial garden in Framingham.
Not for profit donations may be made by check in Jim’s name via the Framingham Parks & Rec Dept. on 475 Union Ave in Framingham via the GoFundMe.
NOTE: Jim’s archives are housed at the National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg.