During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the Navy’s first Black flag officer.
Samuel Gravely Jr. was born in June 1922 in Richmond, Virginia. He attended Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, for three years and postponed his education in 1942 to enlist in the Navy Reserve as a seaman apprentice. Two years later, Gravely commissioned as an ensign after graduating from U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University in New York City. He was the first African American U.S. Navy Reserve officer.
In 1945, during World War II, Gravely served aboard USS PC-1264 before being released from active duty in 1946. After his stint aboard USS PC-1264, Gravely returned to Virginia Union University and graduated with a history degree in 1948.
A year later, the Navy recalled Gravely to active duty for recruiter duty in an African American community in Washington, D.C. Gravely also served aboard USS Iowa as a communications officer during the Korean War.
After the Korean War, Gravely transitioned from the Navy Reserve to the Navy. In the 1960s, Gravely became the first African American officer to command a ship when he became acting commander of USS Theodore E. Chandler. During this time, Gravely helped with integration efforts at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and served as a coordinator for the Navy’s Communications Satellite Program.
He went on to command USS Falgout, USS Taussig and USS Jouett. Gravely promoted to rear admiral while serving aboard USS Jouett during the Vietnam War. While a rear admiral, Gravely served at the Naval Communications Command, the 11th Naval District, a cruiser-destroyer group and the Defense Communications Agency.
In 1976, Gravely promoted to vice admiral and became the commander of the Third Fleet where he supervised 60,000 service members and 100 naval ships until 1978 when he became director of the Defense Communications Agency. There, Gravely oversaw the entire communications network linking America with bases overseas.
After a 38-year career in the Navy, Gravely retired in 1980, having become the first African American commander, captain, fleet commander and flag officer. During his service, Gravely earned numerous awards including a Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Navy Commendation Medal.
In 2004, Gravely passed away in Bethesda, Maryland, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
We honor his service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Raymond Lin
Editor: Katherine Berman and Amanda Baker
Fact checker: Latesha Thornhill
Graphic artist: Roni Ruadap