Vice Adm. Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr. enlisted in the Navy Reserves on Sept. 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 Dec. 14, 1944, 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.
Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1949. As part of the Navy's response to President 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.
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); 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, 3rd Fleet).
Among Gravely's assignments were tours of duty aboard the following: PC-1264, USS Iowa (BB-61), USS Toledo (CA-133) and USS Seminole (AKA-104). He served as executive officer and commanding officer of the USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717). In addition, he was the commanding officer of the USS Falgout (DER-324), USS Taussig (DD-746) and USS Jouett (DLG-29). His last tour of duty, before retiring in August 1980, was as director of the Defense Communications Agency.