Marines

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Members of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River chapters of the National Naval Officers’ Association take a moment to pose in front the ship after the commissioning ceremony of the Navy destroyer, USS Gravely, at the State Ports, Wilmington, N.C., Nov. 20. The destroyer was named after the late pioneer Vice Adm. Samuel Lee Gravely Jr., who was the first African-American in the U.S. Navy to be commissioned, first to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first to command a Navy ship, become a fleet commander and a flag officer.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman

Navy ship named for African-American pioneer

20 Nov 2010 | Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman

Thousands of citizens of Wilmington, N.C., friends, family and service members from the surrounding bases and stations joined together to commission yet another Navy vessel. The guided missile destroyer, DDG 107, was commissioned as the USS Gravely at the State Ports in Wilmington, N.C., Nov. 20.

The destroyer was named after the late pioneer Vice Adm. Samuel Lee Gravely Jr., who was the first African-American in the U.S. Navy to be commissioned, first to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, first to command a Navy ship and the first to become fleet commander and a flag officer.

The ship’s motto is appropriately, ‘First to Conquer.’

“This is an event that no one should’ve missed for the world,” said Lt. Col. Raymond LeGall, the commanding officer of the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River and chapter president for the area’s National Naval Officers’ Association. “Our mission is to assist with the retention, recruitment, training and mentoring of young officers in a diverse service. Admiral Gravely represented that and we’re here to ensure to that we carry on the legacy.”

Gravely devoted nearly 40 years of service to the Navy, spanning from 1942 to 1980. He participated in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.

“The commissioning committee is dedicated to ensuring that the Gravely’s commissioning will be in keeping with the highest traditions that accompany ceremonies of such historic significance,” said Louise F. McColl, chair of the USS Gravely commissioning committee. “It is an honor to be asked to chair a commissioning ceremony – an honor that I share with Wilmington for its resources and hospitality.  Our commitment is to make the commissioning of the USS Gravely the most memorable and historic event in our city’s history.”

Cmdr. Douglas Kunzman, commanding officer of the USS Gravely, said the ship was constructed in Pascagoula, Miss. The 510 – foot – long destroyer has a full load displacement of 9,200 tons and is powered by four gas turbine engines.

Kunzman added that with all the anxiety and excitement, the day was full of emotions.

“I deal with those emotions every single day,” said Kunzman. “The best part of this is to take those emotions and the legacy of Admiral Gravely and do my job while instilling that in every crewmember on this ship. With that, (the ship) will be successful for the next 30 years. (The event) was fantastic, I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day, a better city to be in or a better crew.”

David Gravely, the son of Vice  Adm. Gravely, said the christening of the ship in May of 2009 was an emotional event as well, but then the ship was still just a piece of iron to the family.

“The ship is coming alive with the crew” said David. “I got to know some of the crew and they’re so young. They don’t want to let my family down.”

David added that the nation has changed a lot since he was a child, as far as discrimination goes. He remembers not being able to enter the front door of restaurants traveling with his family, and had to come in the back door just to get a bite to eat.

“Back then, you don’t understand the significance of that,” said David. “But now I do. Now I see the Navy naming a ship after an African-American and you get the sense of achievement and the sense of how things are changing. I look at the crew – men, women and minorities – all kinds of people. It’s truly one nation. They’re all coming together on the ship. This ship is amazing and my family is very happy.”