Sen. Wicker Honors Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Jr.

July 4, 2009 by  

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today delivered remarks on the Senate floor in honor of the late Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Jr. Gravely made Naval history as the first African American to achieve the rank of vice admiral. Last weekend, the USS Gravely was christened in his honor at the Northrop Grumman shipyard in Pascagoula. Video and text of Sen. Wicker’s remarks are available below.

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Washington, Friday, May 15, 2009
Congressional Record
Senate

TRIBUTE TO SAMUEL L. GRAVELY, JR. First African American U.S. NAVY FLAG Officer
by
U.S. Senator Roger F. Wicker (R-MS)

Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, tomorrow, at the Northrop-Grumman shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the USS Gravely, the 57th Arleigh Burke class Aegis Guided Missile Destroyer, will be christened in honor of the late Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr.

Samuel L. Gravely was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1922. In 1942, Gravely interrupted his education at Virginia Union University and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He attended Officer Training Camp at the University of California at Los Angeles after boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, and then midshipman school at Columbia University. When he boarded his first ship in May of 1945, he became its first African American officer.

Gravely was the first African American to command a fighting ship (USS Falgout) and to command a major warship (USS Jouett). As a full commander, he made naval history in 1966 as the first African American commander to lead a ship-the USS Taussig-into direct offensive action. He was the first African American to achieve flag rank and eventually Vice Admiral. In 1976, Gravely became the commander of the entire third fleet, commanding over 100 ships, 60,000 officers and men, and overseeing more than 50 million square miles of ocean.

Gravely’s tenure in the naval service was challenged with the difficulties of racial discrimination. As a new recruit, he was trained in a segregated unit; as an officer, he was barred from living in the Bachelor’s Officers’ Quarters. In 1945, when his first ship reached its berth in Key West Florida, he was specifically forbidden entry into the Officers’ Club on the base. Gravely survived the indignities of racial prejudice and displayed unquestionable competence as a naval officer.

Gravely exemplified the highest standards and demanded very high standards from his crew. Throughout his career, he stressed the very rudiments of professionalism-intelligence, appearance, seamanship, and most importantly, pride. “Pride in ourselves! Pride in our ships! And pride in our Navy!”

Vice Admiral Gravely was a trailblazer for African Americans in the military arena. He fought for equal rights quietly but effectively, letting his actions speak for him. Gravely died on October 22, 2004, at the naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. In a fitting tribute, the obituary on the U.S. Department of Defense Web site quoted Gravely’s formula for success: “My formula is simply education plus motivation plus perseverance.”

Samuel L. Gravely, Jr.’s performance and leadership as an African American naval officer demonstrated to America the value and strength of diversity. Gravely was a true professional with superb skills as a seaman and admirable leadership attributes.

As the USS Gravely is christened tomorrow, she will reflect his character, his forthrightness, and his steadfastness and will stand for and deliver his legacy wherever she serves. His spirit aboard the USS Gravely will be an inspiration to its crew, the United States Navy, and America for generations to come.

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