First African American Admiral honored at christening

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Breaking a bottle over a new ship is a simple tradition, but in this instance, it has extraordinary significance for the U.S. Navy.

The U.S.S. Gravely will soon be the most technologically advanced warship on the seas.  Northrop Grumman shipbuilders have spent years creating the vessel, and now, it bears the name of the first African American to ever be called Admiral.  His name was Samuel L. Gravely.

"She's beautiful," said Gravely's widow Alma, while looking up at the majestic destroyer.  "She's just beautiful. My husband would love her."

Alma Gravely sponsored the aegis guided navy destroyer. According to Navy tradition, because she's the sponsor of the ship, the same vessel that carries her late husband's name will now carry her spirit forever.

"It's very exciting, very exciting," Gravely said. "I really didn't realize that it was going to affect me emotionally so much until I came down to it yesterday, and I could hardly hold tears back."

Spirits ran high through the crowd of Navy dignitaries and shipbuilders as they honored Admiral Gravely for paving the way for countless others behind him.

"He was our guide," said Admiral J. Paul Reason, an African American officer who drew inspiration from Admiral Gravely. "He was our ready source of career advice. He was our ready source of encouragement."

Northrop Grumman's President, Mike Petters, was present at the christening. He said Admiral Gravely "was an inspiration. A hero to a generation of sailors. Many of whom are still sailing today."

Now it's up to the U.S.S. Gravely's future commander to make sure his memory is never forgotten.

"My biggest challenge is to take those principals and his legacy and put it on board that ship," said Prospective Commanding Officer Douglas Kunzman. "So that it lives in every sailor, not only while they're on that ship, but for the rest of their lives."

Kunzman never knew Gravely, but he said he's inspired by the story behind his future ship's namesake.

"My pride and my desire to develop this crew in the legacy of Admiral Gravely has only grown day by day," Kunzman said. "And I don't think it will ever stop. It won't ever stop."

Ms. Gravely left the ship's prospective crew with a few words of encouragement.

"My wishes are all with you," she told them. "Godspeed. And be careful, and I know she will serve you well."

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