Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was born in Richmond, Virginia on June 4, 1922.
After two years at Virginia Union University, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves on September 15, 1942 and was trained as a Fireman Apprentice. 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. As part of his V-12 training, he attended the University of California in Los Angeles, Pre-Midshipman School in New Jersey and Midshipmen School at Columbia University, New York City. On December 14, 1944 Admiral Gravely successfully completed midshipman training, becoming the first African American commissioned as an officer from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course. As a newly commissioned Ensign, his first duty assignment was at Camp Robert Smalls as the Assistant Battalion Commander for new recruits. Following that, he began his seagoing career as a sailor aboard the PC 1264, a submarine chaser that was one of only two World War II ships with a largely African American crew. In April 1946 he was released from active duty, but remained in the Naval Reserve. He returned to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia to complete his bachelor's degree in History.
Admiral Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1949. As part of the Navy's response to President Harry S. 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.
Admiral Gravely went from recruiting sailors to building a Navy career that lasted 38 years and included many distinguished accomplishments.
Among those accomplishments, are a string of impressive "firsts" that include: the first African American to command a U.S. Navy warship ( USS Theodore E. Chandler); the first African American to command an American warship under combat conditions since the Civil War (USS Taussig during the Vietnam War): the first African American to command a major naval warship (USS Jouett); the first African American admiral; the first African American to rise to the rank of Vice Admiral; and the first African American to command a U.S. Fleet (Commander, Third Fleet).
After leaving active duty in 1980 he became director of the Defense Communications Agency in Washington. He died Friday October 22, 2004 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after a stroke. He was 82.
Birth: Jun. 4, 1922
Death: Oct. 22, 2004
BURIED: Arlington National Cemetery
Plot: Section 66, Lot 7417