A Sailor's Story: Vice Admiral Samuel Lee Gravely Jr.

Admiral Gravely had an impressive Naval career of firsts.

Born on June 4, 1922, in Richmond, Virginia, he attended Virginia Union University, leaving early to join the Naval reserves in 1942.

After basic training at the Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, he entered V-12 Navy College Training at UCLA and then attended Midshipmen's school at Columbia University. He was commissioned as Ensign in 1944.

His time during World War II was spent aboard the USS PC-1264, conducting patrols and escorts through the Atlantic.

In 1946, released from active duty, he returned to Virginia Union University, completed his Bachelor's in History, and worked as a railway postal clerk.

He returned to active duty in 1949 as a recruiter in Washington, DC, transferring to the USS Iowa as a communications officer. He converted from the reserves to the regular Navy in 1955.

In 1961, he was given his own boat, the USS Theodore E. Chandler, becoming the first African American to command a ship. His command transferred to the USS Falgout in 1962. During the Vietnam War, he commanded the USS Taussig and was the first African American to command a vessel during combat. He was promoted to Captain in 1967 - again being the first African American in the US Navy to do so, and in 1971, he became Rear admiral (also first).

He was given the command of the 3rd fleet based in Hawaii from 1978-1980 - the first African American to command a numbered naval fleet.

He retired in 1980 and spent his time fishing, traveling with his wife, and breeding pigeons. He died on October 22, 2004, in Bethesda, Maryland.

The ship USS Gravely was named in his honor.


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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