Jul 1

#PeopleMatter Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr.: The Man Behind the Legend

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 2:40 PM



By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

There’s been a lot of publicity today as Adm. Michelle Howard becomes the Navy’s first female 4-star admiral, who also happens to be African-American. Her special moment in history is shared with another stellar officer, as today marks the 43rd anniversary of then-Capt. Samuel Gravely Jr. becoming the first African-American to achieve the rank of rear admiral. By the time he retired in 1980, he had earned the rank of vice admiral. His 38-year career was peppered with firsts as an African-American: first to command a combatant ship, to be promoted to flag rank, and to command a naval fleet.

During a series of interviews with the National Leadership Visionary Project, Vice Adm. Gravely described himself as a mild-mannered but strong man who takes the time to determine several courses of action to complete a mission and then pick the best one. “I always try to do the best job I know how,” he said. “I’m scared to death of failure, so I don’t let myself fail.”

He also described himself as “neat.”

Anyone who served with Gravely will remember he had a strong propensity for his ships being, well, ship-shape. After all, it was a desire for cleanliness that guided Gravely to the Navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed Dec. 7, 1941.

As the military sought more bodies to fill billets, Gravely was sure he would be drafted – but not by the Navy. “I didn’t want to go into the Army,” Gravely said, explaining his father had a 3-4 year stint in the Army and didn’t enjoy it. And there was something about the Navy that appealed to Gravely.

“Most people tell you the Navy slept in clean beds at sea, while the Army slept in mud holes and tents,” Gravely said. “I thought it would be a better life in the Navy.”

At the start of World War II, the Navy became semi-segregated, opening the door to African-Americans to be something other than mess man or stewards. Gravely joined the Naval Reserve in 1942, but “I refused to go in and cook.” He was sent to Great Lakes, Ill., as a seaman apprentice.

Gravely’s first duty station was San Diego, a segregated base where he lived in a hut with seven other guys that was made for “five-foot guys and not six-foot guys.” He was the only one who couldn’t stand up straight in his living quarters.

After a couple of months, he heard someone was picking people to be mess cooks. Gravely was determined not to be on that list.

“I’d been running away from that for years,” Gravely said. So he volunteered for compartment cleaning.

“Every day I got up, put on my clothes and would go outside after breakfast and pick up cigarette butts and do other odd jobs” in the areas where enlisted black men spent their time.

One day, the chief master of arms asked Gravely if he and another black Sailor wanted to run the pool hall in order to expand job opportunities for blacks.

“There were no blacks up there and whites didn’t want them up there, but I took over the pool hall along with another fellow and we ran it for four months,” Gravely said. “We changed the music a little bit and picked up a bunch of extra quarters in that juke box, and then we picked up more money playing pool because blacks started coming into the pool hall.”

Along the way, Gravely was asked to take the V-12 officer test. Out of the 120 who took it, only three passed, with Gravely the only African-American. He attended V-12 officer training camp at the University of California at Los Angeles. Combined with his credits from Virginia Union College, after two semesters at UCLA, Gravely went to midshipman’s school at Columbia University. On Nov. 14, 1944, Gravely was the only black officer among 1,000 graduates at St. John’s Cathedral.

“I felt proud, really, that I had accomplished something else that no one else had under the same constraints,” Gravely said. “My old dad could stand up and say ‘That’s my boy’ and feel proud, too.”

And speaking of his father, Gravely credited his hard work ethic and desire to do things right to Samuel L. Gravely Sr., a stern but loving disciplinarian.

“I was spanked for everything, but at the same time, it never killed me,” Gravely said. “I had a happy, fun-loving childhood. Dad wasn’t cruel, I could take it, but there were very few things I didn’t get a whipping about.”

And just like George Washington, there is a tree that factors into the childhood legend of Samuel L. Gravely Jr.

At his Richmond childhood home, a huge tree loomed in the back yard that had family members concerned about a lightning strike taking it down. Gravely and a cousin decided they would hasten its demise by putting a chip in the tree every day Gravely didn’t get a whipping over the summer.

“We didn’t get far on cutting that tree down,” he said. “As far as I remember, they had to saw it down.”

The discipline was just part of Gravely’s childhood, and nothing that bothered him. “My dad was a really good, loving man, but you had to do things right, it’s as simple as that.”

As proud Gravely was of his achievements, there were times when he wished the media focus had been more about his accomplishments as a naval officer rather than as an African-American naval officer. He admitted some of the early media attention on him was embarrassing and frustrating.

He described reporters who came onboard his ship, USS Falgout (DER-324), at Pearl Harbor, and set up in the ward room to take pictures. But they didn’t get the pictures they wanted.

“They didn’t want a picture of a black guy eating at a table with white guys, they wanted to see a black guy served first,” Gravely said. But in his ward room, the determination on who would be served first was not based on rank, but instead it was rotated around chair placement.

It would be a mistake and disservice to think Gravely’s rise in rank was just too convenient a coincidence at a time when the Navy was working so hard to prove it was desegregated, he was determined to be a destroyerman.

But he had never spent time on a destroyer thus far in his career. “I heard if you wanted to be on a destroyer, but you’ve never been to a destroyer, you can’t go to a destroyer. You have to work your way up as a junior officer.”

Gravely wasn’t about to let a bureaucratic catch-22 unravel his dream of commanding a destroyer. He wrote to the Naval Office of Personnel asking to be allowed to command, not just be second in command, and he wanted a destroyer. As it happened, the Chief of Naval Personnel at the time was Gravely’s former skipper on USS Iowa.

He had established a school and training program for those who had never been and never qualified for destroyer duty. So Gravely got orders to Destroyer Squadron SEVEN.

“They looked at me like I dropped out of the woods,” he said after reporting aboard.

Gravely decided if he would ever command such a ship, he needed to ride all eight ships and attend all of the training courses. Once all of that was done, just when he thought he would get his own destroyer, he was sent to another destroyer squadron, DESRON FIVE.

The skipper told Gravely the only way he would learn the ship from bottom to top was through the inspection process the ship commander held every year. And he handed him the manual.

“I went through the dumb thing chapter by chapter,” Gravely said. After finishing the book, the skipper agreed Gravely was qualified to command a destroyer. Shortly afterward, Gravely got word he would be in charge of the destroyer USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD 717).

“That was like going to Heaven,” Gravely said.

Gravely and his wife drove to its pier in Northern California to admire “the beautiful lines on that ship.” But that trip to Heaven required a detour to a shipyard. “Turns out (Chandler) wasn’t meant to be an operating member of the fleet, it was going to Hunters Point at the San Francisco shipyard for one whole year to be completely modernized,” Gravely said. “I saw the bucket cut down from the bridge right straight down to nothing but the waterline. Then I saw it being built again.”

Gravely never got the chance to command Chandler at sea. History was made when he got orders to be the commanding officer of USS Falgout (DER 324), then based at Pearl Harbor.

“I could have cried,” Gravely said. “I wanted to be a commanding officer of a destroyer.”

As luck would have it, the destroyer escort wasn’t in port when Lt. Cmdr. Gravely and his wife and children arrived at Pearl Harbor in December 1961. But when the ship arrived, the first thing the perfectionist noted was the gun mount was a-kilter due to bad weather. One of his first priorities as the ship’s commanding officer in January 1962 was get the gun mount fixed.

By 1966, then-Cmdr. Gravely was skipper of USS Taussig (DD 746), a destroyer that provided weapons and aerial support in Vietnam. Then in 1967, he earned the rank of captain, the first African-American to do so. On July 1, 1971, Gravely was appointed a rear admiral at age 48 while he was in command of USS Jouett (DLG 29), a guided-missile frigate also based at Pearl Harbor. At the time, he was also named director of naval communications.

Five years later, Rear Adm. Gravely was in command of the Navy’s Third Fleet based in Hawaii. After two years at the helm, he accepted shore duty in Northern Virginia as director of the Defense Communication Agency. Two years after that, in 1980, Vice Adm. Gravely retired from the Navy, worked in an engineering firm; volunteered in his church and community; sat on boards, earned an honorary doctorate — and dabbled again in his childhood hobby of raising pigeons. He died after suffering a stroke at the age of 82 on Oct. 22, 2004.

“Leadership is being able to take one man or a group of men and convince them on a course of action that you think is the best course of action you can take under the circumstances,” he said in the Library of Congress’ National Visionary Leadership project.

Faced with myriad obstacles that littered his path to success and overcoming them all, Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr. proved he had the qualities he claimed it took to be a leader: to be ready; lead with integrity, professionalism and care; take pride and excel in your work, no matter the job; creatively address challenges; have the right attitude to earn respect, and perseverance.

 Read more about Vice Adm. Gravely’s naval career. Listen to the interviews by Vice Adm. Gravely with the Library of Congress’ National Visionary Leadership  project. Or read a previous blog by one of NHHC’s historians.

Please click the hyperlink to read Adm. Michelle Howard’s bio.

Jan 31

Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., USN: Naval Officer, Trailblazer

Friday, January 31, 2014 10:38 AM

Prepared by Regina T. Akers, Ph.D., Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command 



On Jan. 31, 1962, then-Lt. Cmdr. Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. took command of destroyer escort USS Falgout (DE 324) becoming the first African-American to command a U.S. Navy combatant ship. It was one of many firsts set by a man who was a trailblazer for minorities in the Navy, but was first and foremost an outstanding naval officer. Below are some quotations and factoids about this important figure in naval history.


“Success in life is the result of several factors. My formula is simply education plus motivation plus perseverance. Education is paramount. Motivation : one must decide what he [or she] wants to do in life, how best to get there and to proceed relentlessly towards that goal. Perseverance: the ability to steadfastly proceed to your goal despite all obstacles. It is the ability to overcome”

“One by-product of my success is a role that has been thrust upon me: to serve as an inspiration for others coming along. I accept that role as graciously as I can, because there are people out there who feel I am sort of a role model.”
Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. and Paul Stillwell with Alma Gravely, Trailblazer, The U.S. Navy’s First Black Admiral, page 237

“Equal opportunity is something I think this country has got to practice. But I think at some point in time we’ve got to reach the place wherein equal opportunity is so routine that we don’t have to call it equal opportunity, that it is just matter of fact. I almost think we’ve called attention to equal opportunity, that we ought to be beyond that point. I’m hoping that one these days we will get there. But when, I have no idea.”
Trailblazer, page 235


Mrs. Alma Gravely (The following quotes were taken from her telephone conversation with Regina T. Akers, Ph.D., Historian, NHHC, Jan. 27, 2014)

“The most significant part of his legacy is the numerous notes and phone calls that I continue to receive expressing how much members of his crews and staffs appreciated him and the opportunity to serve with him. . . . Since his death, I am learning how much he touched people across races and ranks.”

“Today’s Sailors need to know about Vice Admiral Gravely because he was just another person who kept his nose to the ground, did his job well, stayed focused, and ignored a lot . . . he wasn’t meek but he was humble,”

“We were breaking the color barrier during his career, however subtly, but did not realize how much.”

“After retiring, he especially enjoyed sharing sea stories with his shipmates.”

“He really liked a clean ship.”

Rear Adm. Mack Gaston, USN, Retired
(The following quotes were taken from his telephone conversation with Regina T. Akers, Ph.D., Historian, NHHC, Jan. 28, 2014)

“He was just an absolute superstar all the time, as an admiral and as a person.”

“The first time that I met him I was an Ensign assigned to USS Buck (DD 761) that was tied up outboard to USS Taussig (DD 746). I was determined to meet Captain Gravely, the only Black commanding officer in the Navy. As I began to introduce myself he reached across and shook my hand. That image is the lasting image of Gravely in my heart.”

“It wasn’t about him. It was about getting things done.”

“He was not angry. He took the situation at sea or at port and made the best that he could from it . . . It wasn’t about personality but about getting the job done.”

“He loved driving ships . . . he was great at driving ships and managing people.”

“If someone were to ask me to share something negative about Gravely, I would not have anything to share . . . as a ship driver, husband or father. He was a great man . . .he was not God . . .he was great man . . he changed our Navy for the better.”

“When I commanded my first ship, I had already learned from him that the people who run the ships are the Chief Petty Officers . . .He told me to remember that and to make sure that I meet with them . . . and often because the chiefs run the Navy . . . the officers make the rules.”

“He told me not to worry about anyone else . . . do your job and do it well.”

“As a commanding officer and admiral he was enjoyed professionally and helped others advance . . . I never heard him say anything negative about anyone.”

Rear Adm. Andrew Winns (Quoted in Great Black War Fighters: Profiles in Service by Ben L. Walton)
“Gravely was an inspiration, not only to African-Americans but to all naval officers aspiring to be the best that they can be. To this day, I think he is still an inspiration to us all, just an absolutely wonderful officer, gentleman, and a Christian. He strived to mentor and promote excellence in all junior officers, without regard to race or gender.”




  • · Born: June 4, 1922 in Richmond, VA
  • · Enlisted into the U.S. Naval Reserves: Sept. 15, 1942
  • · Married: Alma Bernice Clark on Feb. 12, 1946
  • · Children: Robert, Tracy and David
  • · Retired: Aug. 1, 1980 as the Director, Defense Communications Agency
  • · After retiring he remained active in his community and enjoyed traveling
  • · Died in Oct. 22, 2004 at the age of 82
  • · See http://www.history.navy.mil/bios/gravely.htm for his complete biography


  • First African-American to command
    • A Navy ship, USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD 707), a radar picket destroyer, Jan. 15 , 1961 to Nov. 21, 1961 
    • A Navy warship, USS Falgout (DE 324), a radar picket destroyer, Jan. 31, 1962 (Although Theodore Chandler was a destroyer, Gravely’s command was spent almost entirely in the shipyard as the ship underwent a major overhaul, so many histories say Falgout was the first warship to be commanded by and African-American 
    • A Navy warship under combat conditions, USS Taussig (DD 746), Jan. 22, 1966 (On June 1, Taussig took up station off the coast of Vietnam to provide naval gunfire support for operations ashore. From then until early October, Taussig alternated naval gunfire support with plane guard duty for Constellation on the southern SAR station off Vietnam). 
    • A Navy major command warship, USS Jouett (DLG 29), May 22, 1970 
    • A numbered Navy fleet, Third Fleet, Sept. 197


First of his race to achieve the rank of 
Captain (Unrestricted Line)
Admiral in April 1971
Vice Admiral in July 26, 1976


* Wrote most of his own speeches

* Was a pigeon fancier, belonged to the pigeon clubs but did not fly his pigeons; his interest in these birds date from his childhood; Pigeons are depicted in the crest for USS Gravely (DDG 107)

* The Bureau of Naval Personnel considered him for command of the Navy’s first black Reserve Officer Training Corps at a historically black college, Prairie View A&M; Commander Gerald Thomas was assigned

* Enjoyed fishing and traveling with his wife especially after retirement

* Loved to entertain in his home

Regina T. Akers, Ph.D., Historian, NHHC
I am encouraged and inspired by the following:

  • · You can be proud of your achievements and humble at the same time.
  • · Pick your battles; sometimes it takes more courage and character to ignore something than it does to respond to it.
  • · Do not let the limitations people assign to you limit you in any way.
  • · Being a pioneer is not easy and can come at great costs and sacrifice.
  • · Success is not given, it must be achieved.
  • · You can respect someone who does not respect you.
  • · Humility is not a weakness but a strength; it is too easy to get focused on yourself, to become arrogant, and to take your blessings for granted.
  • · True success involves helping others along the way.
  • · There are usually more persons supporting you than the number trying to hinder you.
  • · Your real legacy is the difference you make in others’ lives.
  • · Every job, be it at or below your skill set, is an opportunity to excel.
  • · Expect trials and difficulties; they are part of life but do not stop there. Expect to conquer them or find a way to work around them.
  • · Being the first a, b, c, or d may sound great but you really just want to be known as striving to be the best a, b, c, or d possible.
  • · Racism exists but do not use it as an excuse for not trying to do something or to improve yourself.


“His life is a demonstration of what happens when someone can take advantage of opportunities and in doing so create opportunities for others. It is truly fitting that both a warship and a school are named for him, because they embody the values that he cherished throughout his life. I was so happy to take an active part in his long journey.” Alma Gravely’s Afterward in Trailblazer, 262

  • · National Naval Officers Association Tribute at Naval Air Station, Coronado, California, February 12, 2000
  • · Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. Elementary School in Haymarket, VA dedicated June 4, 2009; the school motto is VADM Gravely’s formula for success: Success=Education+Motivation+Preseverance
  • · USS Gravely (DDG 107), Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, christened May 16, 2009; see http://www.gravely.navy.mil for more information
  • · Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. Memorial Scholarship, Booze/Allen/Hamilton Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Scholarship for undergraduate and graduate study
  • · Admiral Gravely Boulevard, a street named after him in his hometown


Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass, Black General and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States, 2nd Edition (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997), 303-33

Desire D. Linson, Lt. Cmdr., USN, Thesis, “Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely: Leadership by Example,” Air Command and Staff College, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, April 1998

Reminiscences of VADM Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., United States Navy, Retired, (Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute, 2003), Navy Department Library, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

Interviewed with the Library of Congress’ National Visionary Leadership Project

Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. with Paul Stillwell, Trailblazer, The U.S. Navy’s First Black Admiral, Afterward by Alma B. Gravely (Annapolis, Maryland, Naval Institute Press, 2010)

Jul 28

USS Gravely DDG-107 Update

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 12:01 AM

The USS Gravely (DDG-107) undergoing sea trials on June 23, 2010.

According to Navy News Service, “The Navy officially accepted delivery of the future USS Gravely from Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding during a ceremony July 26 in Pascagoula, Miss. Designated DDG 107, Gravely is the 57th ship of the Arleigh Burke class.” 

Moreover, according to Navy News Service, “The new destroyer honors the late Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the first African American commissioned as an officer from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course. He was the first African American to command a warship (USS Theodore E. Chandler); to command a major warship (USS Jouett); to achieve flag rank and eventually vice admiral; and to command a numbered fleet (Third).”

For more about the life of VADM Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., USN, please view our on-line exhibit by clicking here.

Jul 26

#PeopleMatter: Truman Ends Segregation in Armed Forces

Saturday, July 26, 2014 8:00 AM

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communications and Outreach Division

It didn’t have the branding power of the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued 86 years prior, but President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981 would give the military services the guidance they needed to fully integrate their service members for years to come.

At just a little more than 400 words, Executive Order 9981, when it was issued July 26, 1948, established there shall be “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

Bespectacled as a youth and awkward around boys and girls his age, a young Harry Truman spent his leisure time reading and playing the piano, entertaining the thought of becoming a concert pianist. He also dreamed of being a solider.

In 1917, with the United States on the verge of entering World War I, Truman joined his National Guard unit, where he blossomed as a leader, rising through the ranks to captain. Truman and the 129th Artillery Regiment were sent to France in 1918, where they served until the end of the war.

This photo shows Harry S. Truman, the future U.S. President, in his Missouri National Guard Uniform, in 1912. This photo is from the National Archives, and is from Collection HST-AVC: Audiovisual Collection, 1957 - 2006. ARC Identifier 199750

This photo shows Harry S. Truman, the future U.S. President, in his Missouri National Guard Uniform, in 1912. This photo is from the National Archives, and is from Collection HST-AVC: Audiovisual Collection, 1957 – 2006. ARC Identifier 199750

At that time, African-Americans were allowed to serve in any capacity in the armed services, as ordered by the Emancipation Proclamation: “that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”

But after World War I, the Navy in particular chose to limit black Sailors to the steward and mess- man rates, and further eliminated chances of attaining a higher rank by not offering petty officer status to stewards and messmen.

John Henry ("Dick") Turpin, Chief Gunner's Mate, USN (retired) (1876-1962) One of the first African-American Chief Petty Officers in the U.S. Navy. This photograph appears to have been taken during or after World War II. Turpin enlisted in the Navy in 1896. A survivor of the explosions on USS Maine (1898) and USS Bennington (1905), he became a Chief Gunner's Mate in 1917. Transferred to the Fleet Reserve in 1919, CGM Turpin retired in 1925. Qualified as a Master Diver, he was also employed as a Master Rigger at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, and, during the World War II era, made inspirational visits to Navy Training Centers and defense plants. U.S. NHHC Photograph.

John Henry (“Dick”) Turpin,
Chief Gunner’s Mate, one of the first African-American Chief Petty Officers in the U.S. Navy whose active-duty service from 1896-1919 was with a more segregated Navy. That changed after World War I. NHHC Photograph.




Decades later, Truman’s leadership skills brought him to the White House for the final months of World War II after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt just 82 days into his fourth term.

After the war, Truman struggled to fix a fractured Democratic party that splintered over Truman’s advocacy of civil rights through his 1947 report “To Secure These Rights” aimed at reforms in voting and employment. The party was throwing its support to avowed “Dixiecrat” and segregationist Strom Thurmond.

If there was one event that might serve as the flash point for Truman’s civil rights advocacy, it would most likely come from the case of U.S. Army Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr.

Woodard, a World War II veteran who had served in the Pacific Theater, was taking a bus from Augusta, Ga., to his family in North Carolina. The 27-year-old was still wearing his uniform after receiving his discharge papers just hours before on Feb. 12, 1946…President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

During one of the stops, Woodard asked the driver for the time to go to the bathroom. The driver reluctantly agreed after an exchange of words, and Woodard returned to his seat without incident.

When the bus stopped in Batesburg, S.C., the driver called the police. After showing the officers his discharge papers, Woodard was accused of disorderly conduct and then beaten with nightsticks. He was jailed and beaten further, with the nightsticks being jabbed repeatedly in his eyes. The next morning, with both his eyes ruptured and suffering from partial amnesia, Woodard was fined $50.

After his family found him at a hospital weeks later that provided inadequate care, nothing could be done to save his eyesight. Despite publicity demanding South Carolina officials investigate the incident, nothing happened.

NAACP Executive Secretary Walter Francis White brought the case before Truman during a meeting Sept. 19, 1946. Truman was outraged, and a week later, he directed the Justice Department to investigate the case.

It mattered little in the outcome for Woodard. The trial was a travesty, the all-white jury found the police chief not-guilty, even though he admitted to blinding him with the nightstick. Woodard moved to New York after the trial, dying at age 73 at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Bronx in 1992. He was buried with military honors at nearby Calverton National Cemetery.

The case spurred Truman to be the first American president to speak at a meeting of the NAACP on June 29, 1947, as they met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was there he proclaimed civil rights as a “moral priority.”

Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer (NARA record: 8451352) Title President Truman addresses the closing session of the 38th annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. In this photo, President Truman is leaving the podium area, accompanied by Walter White, President of the NAACP (to Mr. Truman's left) and Fred Vinson (between them). Gen. Harry Vaughan is to the right of President Truman. Record creator National Archives and Records Administration. Office of Presidential Libraries. Harry S. Truman Library. (04/01/1985 - ) Date 29 June 1947

Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer (NARA record: 8451352)
Title President Truman addresses the closing session of the 38th annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. In this photo, President Truman is leaving the podium area, accompanied by Walter White, President of the NAACP (to Mr. Truman’s left) and Fred Vinson (between them). Gen. Harry Vaughan is to the right of President Truman.
Record creator National Archives and Records Administration. Office of Presidential Libraries. Harry S. Truman Library. (04/01/1985 – )
Date 29 June 1947

Riding his civil liberties platform, as he headed into the November 1948 election against New York Republican Thomas Dewey, Truman issued Executive Order 9981 on July 26, stating: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” A sister act, Executive Order 9980, declared equality for those in the federal government.

The order also established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.

The Committee did its homework over the next two years, making field investigations of eight Navy ships and stations, seven Air Force bases and 10 Army posts, held more than 40 meetings and heard testimony from 67 witnesses, according to its 1,025-page report to the president given May 22, 1950.

The Navy was the most compliant, following through with a directive June 7, 1949, from Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, with all jobs and ratings in the naval general service open to all enlisted men, and berthing as well. “Negroes are currently serving in every job classification and in general service.”

Blacks who had been serving as stewards could transfer into the general service as well.

All technical courses were open, with “Negroes attending the most advanced technical schools and are serving in their ratings both in the fleet and at shore installations.”

Sailors in general service were integrated, with whites and African-Americans from basic training, technical schools, on the job, in messes and sleeping quarters, both ashore and afloat.

But most importantly, the steward rate added third, second, first and chief petty officer to its promotion levels, like other rates in the Navy.

Flying high now: African-Americans have the complete choice of rates in the Navy after President Harry S. Truman's desegrated the Armed Services on July 26, 1946. Navy astronaut Capt. Winston E. Scott goes for a "walk" during a space shuttle mission in 1997. NHHC photograph

Flying high now: African-Americans have the complete choice of rates in the Navy after President Harry S. Truman’s desegrated the Armed Services on July 26, 1946. Navy astronaut Capt. Winston E. Scott goes for a “walk” during a space shuttle mission in 1997. NHHC photograph

The success of the Navy incorporating African-Americans into the Navy was recently illustrated in a blog about Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr., who took advantage of the Navy’s V-12 College Training program and became the first African-American admiral.

“The thing that most impressed the Committee about the Navy’s experience was that in the relatively short space of five years the Navy had moved from a policy of complete exclusion of Negroes from general service to a policy of complete integration in general service,” the Committee report concluded. “In this about face, the Navy had not been primarily motivated by moral considerations or by a desire to equalize treatment and opportunity. Undoubtedly public opinion had been a factor in this reversal of policy, but chiefly the Navy had been influenced by considerations of military efficiency and the need to economize human resources. Equality of treatment and opportunity, the Navy had discovered, was a necessary and inevitable condition and byproduct of a sound policy of manpower utilization.”

Dec 15

Some new titles at the Navy Department Library

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 2:17 PM

Come visit us at the Washington Navy Yard to check out these and many more books!

Allah’s angels : Chechen women in war / by Paul J. Murphy

An Army at the crossroads / by Andrew F. Krepinevich

Attitudes aren’t free : thinking deeply about diversity in the US armed forces / [edited by] James E. Parco, David A. Levy

The Battle of North Cape : the death ride of the Scharnhorst, 1943 / by Angus Konstam

The Brusilov offensive / by Timothy C. Dowling

Central Greece and the politics of power in the fourth century BC / by John Buckler and Hans Beck

Cities of the dead : contesting the memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914 / by William A. Blair

A concise history of Hungary / by Miklós Molnár ; translated by Anna Magyar

A different kind of war : the United States Army in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), October 2001-September 2005 / by Donald P. Wright … [et al.]

Douglas MacArthur : statecraft and stagecraft in America’s East Asian policy / by Russell D. Buhite

Essays in naval history, from medieval to modern / by N.A.M. Rodger

Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 25

The Loss of USS Cochino (SS-345)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 12:00 PM

On the morning of 25 August 1949, during a training cruise north of the Arctic Circle, the submarine Cochino (SS-345), in company with Tusk (SS-426), attempted to submerge to snorkel depth in the Barents Sea, but the crashing waves played havoc with these efforts. At 1048, a muffled thud rocked Cochino and news of a fire in the after battery compartment quickly passed through the boat. A second explosion soon followed and CDR Rafael Benitez, the commanding officer, ordered all of the crew not on watch or fighting fires topside. During this orderly evacuation, however, Seaman J. E. Morgan fell overboard. The 48° water and the swells created by the 20 to 25 mph winds rapidly exhausted the sailor, so Chief Torpedoman’s Mate Hubert H. Rauch dove into the chilly sea to keep him afloat before Culinary Specialist Clarence Balthrop pulled him to safety.

At 1123, another explosion badly burned LCDR Richard M. Wright, the executive officer, and left him temporarily in a state of shock, as he moved to sever the connection between the after and forward batteries on board Cochino to stem the generation of dangerous hydrogen gas. Thanks in part to a safety line run by LT (j.g.) Charles Cushman, Jr., by 1208, 60 men huddled, cold and wet, on the bridge and deck of the submarine. Almost all of them had not had time to dress properly for the stormy weather. It was no better for those who remained below, as men began to pass out from the gas and toxic smoke. At 1230, Tusk attempted to come alongside, but the swells and wind made this nearly impossible, but she did manage to send needed medical supplies to Cochino by raft.

CDR Benitez decided that he needed get word of the dire conditions on board to Tusk and the Commander, Submarine Development Group Two. Aware of the perils that awaited him, ENS John Shelton agreed to make the attempt as did a civilian engineer on board, Mr. Robert Philo. After receiving confirmation of Philo’s desire to make the journey, CDR Benitez ordered the men lowered into the angry sea, but their raft immediately overturned. Sailors from Tusk pulled Shelton and Philo alongside as they desperately clung to the raft, but the waves that swept across the submarine prevented them being brought on board. Seaman Norman Walker jumped into water to help both men onto Tusk, but not before the waves slammed Philo’s head against the hull. By this time, fifteen men from that submarine stood on the deck handling lines and attempting to resuscitate Philo, when an unusually large wave broke one of the lifelines and swept eleven members of the Tusk crew and the still unconscious Philo overboard. In addition to Philo, the sea claimed the lives of six of Tusk’s crew including Electrician’s Mate John Guttermuth whose inflatable life jacket had burst upon hitting the water which left only his boots inflated as he attempted to save the unconscious Fireman Robert F. Brunner, Jr. He fought desperately to keep his head above water, but eventually drowned in the frigid sea with his boots still visible above the water. A kinder fate awaited LT (j.g.) Philip Pennington when LCDR George Cook dove over the side to pluck him from the unruly waves. Of two life rafts thrown to those who been swept overboard, one was recovered empty, but the other contained Torpedoman’s Mate Raymond Reardon who suffered gravely from exposure to the elements. Engineman Henry McFarland entered the water but could not reach the raft then Seaman Raymond Shugar overcame the raging waters long enough to attach a line to Reardon who was subsequently rescued.

By 1800, Cochino had regained power and signaled Tusk that she could make ten knots but had no steering. It appeared the crippled boat might make it back to Norway. However, at 2306 she suffered a fatal blow in the form of yet another battery explosion. Tusk loosed her ready torpedoes then transferred the 76 officers and men from the stricken submarine. CDR Benitez, the last to leave Cochino, departed only minutes before the boat slipped beneath the waves. These selfless acts of heroism provide an example of the dedication and comraderie that animates our submariners. Only their bravery and professionalism kept the tragic toll from being far higher.