From the American Revolution to the Spanish-American War

What role did Samuel L. Gravely Jr. play in the U.S. Navy?

In 1944 Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. (1922–2004) became the first black ensign commissioned during World War II. He was released from active service after the war, but was recalled in 1949. In January 1962 Gravely was given command of the destroyer USS Falgout. This was the first time a black officer had been given command of a ship in the modern U.S. Navy. In 1963 Gravely and George I. Thompson were the first two blacks chosen to attend the Naval War College. Three years later, he entered the history books again as the first black commander to lead a ship, the USS Taussig, into offensive action. Gravely became the first black admiral in the U.S. Navy in 1971; he had earlier been the first black to achieve the rank of captain. His contributions to the navy continued when he became commander of the 3rd fleet in 1976. He was transferred from Hawaii to Virginia in 1978, when he became director of the Defense Communications Agency. Gravely retired from the navy in 1980 as a three-star admiral. He was born in Richmond, Virginia, into a family committed to government service. Gravely interrupted his college studies at Virginia Union University to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1942. By the time he was assigned to his first ship in 1945, he had risen to the rank of captain; he was the first black officer on the ship. During his brief hiatus from the navy, Gravely completed his college work, graduating in 1948. He returned to active duty in the navy in 1952. After his retirement from the navy, he remained active as a consultant and a speaker. During the mid-1980s, he served as executive director of education and training for the Educational Foundation of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. His thirty-four years in the navy included service in three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Gravely held numerous medals commemorating his service, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star. On November 20, 2010, Gravely was honored posthumously when a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Gravely, was commissioned in Wilmington, North Carolina. The vessel was hailed as “one of the most advanced ships ever developed.” It is over 508 feet long and draws 31 feet of water. Over 380 officers and enlisted personnel serve aboard.


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