An American Trailblazer

Vice Admiral Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr.’s (1922-2004) naval career lasted 38 years and included many distinguished accomplishments.  Gravely was a true pathfinder whose performance and leadership as a naval officer demonstrated to America the value and strength of diversity. He passed away at the age of 82 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Early Years

Gravely enlisted in the US Naval Reserve in September 1942.  In 1943, he participated in a Navy program (V-12) designed to select and train highly qualified men for commissioning as officers in the Navy.  On Dec. 14, 1944, Gravely successfully completed Midshipman training, becoming the first African American commissioned as an officer from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).  He was released from active duty in April 1946, but remained in the Naval Reserve.

Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1949.  As part of the Navy’s response to President Harry Truman’s executive order to desegregate the armed services, his initial assignment was as a Navy recruiter, recruiting African Americans in the Washington, D.C. area.

One of Admiral Gravely’s first tours of duty at sea was as a junior officer aboard the USS Iowa in 1952. Gravely served with distinction as a radio specialist aboard USS Iowa, where the ship’s communications officer was more interested in his qualifications than his color: “I don’t care if he’s black, white, or green, all I want is a radio officer!” the senior officer once declared, according to Ebony magazine.

A Distinguished Career

Gravely was the first African American to command a warship (USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD 717)); command a major warship (USS Jouett (DLG 29)); to achieve flag rank and eventually vice admiral; and to command a numbered fleet (U.S. 3rd).  Throughout his career, Gravely received the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious service Medal and Navy Commendation Medal.  The destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107), commissioned in 2010, was named in his honor.

Beyond the Sea

Admiral Gravely continued to work in Washington on defense coordination and satellite communications. He retired in 1980 as director of the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, overseeing the communications network linking Washington with American and allied bases worldwide.