October 26, 2004 by

Samuel Gravely Jr.


Categories: Military

sgravely.jpgRetired Vice Adm. Samuel Lee Gravely Jr., the first black naval officer to become an admiral and command both a warship and a fleet, died on Oct. 22 after a stroke. He was 82.
The Richmond, Va., native attended Virginia Union University for two years before enlisting in the Naval Reserve in 1942. Commissioned as an ensign, Gravely served aboard a segregated submarine chaser, then returned to Virginia Union to complete his bachelor’s degree in history.
Gravely resumed active duty in 1949 and worked as a recruitment officer for the newly desegregated U.S. Navy. In the Korean War, he returned to combat service as a communications officer aboard the battleship Iowa and the cruiser Toledo. Gravely officially transferred from the Naval Reserve to the regular Navy in 1955.
The first African-American to graduate from a midshipman’s school, at Columbia University, Gravely also became the first black officer to command an American warship when he was named skipper of the destroyer Falgout in 1962. He again made history by becoming acting commanding officer of the destroyer USS Theodore E. Chandler.
During the Vietnam War, he served as commander of the destroyer USS Taussig and the guided missile frigate USS Jouett. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford appointed Gravely to be vice admiral in charge of the Navy’s Third Fleet, a command of 100 warships and 60,000 sailors and marines.
Gravely received numerous honors over the course of his illustrious 38-year military career, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and Navy Commendation Medal. He retired in 1980 as the director of the Defense Communications Agency, the predecessor of the Defense Information Systems Agency. Gravely was married for 58 years, fathered three children and raised pigeons.

9 Responses to Samuel Gravely Jr.

  1. Litsa

    Samuel Gravely must have faced obstacles that seemed insurmountable, but he obviously prevailed. I had never heard of him before now, but I’m inspired–not in a cheesy, movie-of-the-week way–but really inspired by his story. Thanks for posting.

  2. Keith Ridley,IV(Washington,DC)

    We stand with you as a treasured brother in our beloved fraternity of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. Rest well my friend you have earned your due.

  3. Rick Dillard, OSCM(SW), USN, Ret.

    I just heard tonight (03MAR05) that ADM Gravely had passed away about six months ago. I was very sorry to hear of this. ADM Gravely was Commander THIRD Fleet when I reported aboard that staff on Ford Island, Hawaii in APR/MAY 1978. That first night after reporting aboard my wife and I could hear sirens and see flashing lights on Ford Island from the hotel we were staying at in Aiea (across the harbor from Ford Island). The next day I found out that ADM Gravely’s son had been killed in a car accident on Ford Island. ADM Gravely was very well respected by the members of his staff. Though I didn’t know him closely, no Second Class Petty Officer knows any Vice Admiral closely, I was very impressed with him and the things I had heard about him. I recall the story that every Halloween he would decorate his quarters as a “haunted house” for the children of the members of his staff who lived aboard Ford Island. His quarters had been built atop an old island fortification originally built to bar the German fleet from entering Pearl Harbor in World War I so it would have made a great haunted house. There wasn’t much for the children who lived aboard Ford Island to do as this was during the timeframe when there was no bridge to Ford Island and access to the island was by small boat or ferry during certain hours. This was the type of man ADM Gravely was – caring for others. ADM Gravely transferred to DCA only a few months after I reported aboard. Later, in mid-1981 when I transferred, I reported aboard USS JOUETT (CG-29) which was the ship then CAPT Gravely was commanding when he was selected to become the U.S. Navy’s first black flag officer. A great man who touched the hearts of many and who was respected by all who he came into contact with.

  4. Perry Prewett

    I was an 18 year old Sailor in the CR Division onboard the USS Iowa in 1952. VADM Gravely, then a First Lt., was the CR Division’s Commanding Officer. We had 54 men in Lt. Gravely’s Division, and we were the Ship’s Radiomen and Telemen. Due to the warmth and caring of Lt. Gravely, my trip to and from Korea was made a lot more comfortable. He treated all HIS men, with love and understanding. I will always cherish the year I spent under him.
    Perry L. Prewett, CR Div. USS Iowa BB-61, 1952

  5. Richard McMichael

    This is more in the way of my own 15 minutes of fame but, I met Admiral (then Lieutenant Commander) Gravely when as an 18 year old SOGSA, I reported aboard the USS Theodore E. Chandler at the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard on September 18 1961. The ship was in the final stages of a FRAM 1 modernization and he had been the XO when it had arrived and was then as I remember it the acting CO until the new CO took command at the end of the yard period.
    I remember his office as a small dark room in the building next to the pier where the ship was tied up, the crew then living in barracks. I was very nervous as you can imagine but he was warm and thankfully perfunct. I am sure that I was in his presence a number of times after that but that is the only clear memory that has survived in the intervening 46 years. He was the first African American Officer that I had ever seen and that impressed me a great deal.

  6. Merv Sam

    Enough can’t be said about this remarkable American. This gentleman had a major impact on any African American sailor who knew of him. Admiral Gravely spoke at my Boot Camp graduation in 1978 and his mere presences made us few African American recruits erect our shoulders straight and our chins pointed high. An inspiration to all, a tragedy if forgotten. Let’s not forget…
    Merv Sam
    US Navy Retired

  7. Bret Terry

    Dear David,
    I am so very sorry to discover the passing of your dad. I happen to be in conversation with constituents here at work and read an old news release. I remember seeing the two of you together, in Storer Hall at Union. You and yours, have my condolences and prayers.
    Bret Terry

  8. Dave Armstrong, STGC, US Navy (RET)

    Gone but not forgotten. You blazed a trail which provided me an opportunity for a very successful Navy career. I can’t wait to see DDG-107 join the surface fleet and honor your namesake by defending our country. Enjoy your peaceful rest – PROUD WARRIOR.

  9. Jeff Saville

    I met then CAPT Gravely when I was best friends with his adopted son, Robbie, in 1970. We were 7th graders. When CAPT Gravely’s ship JOUETT, of which he was CO, went on a family day cruise in Sept 70, I was invited to go along. What a great day we had going everywhere on the ship, and we were both treated like royalty by the crew because EVERYONE knew whose son Robbie was. It also happened to be a day of huge SoCal wildfires, meaning that even 20 miles out at sea, bits of ash were floating down, swirling around the decks like gray snow. The sun was a deep orange. Does anyone know what happened to Robbie? Was he the one killed in a car accident on Ford Island? would be happy to receive reply to jeffsaville@hotmail.com. Put name ROBBIE GRAVELY in subject so I’ll know it is not spam.

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