CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WWAY) -- One of the largest and most advanced ships in the Navy, the USS Gravely, will be commissioned this Saturday. The time honored ceremony will not only mark the beginning of the ship's active service, but will also pay tribute to the man behind the ship's name.
Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely was the first African American to be commissioned in the US Navy, the first to command a Navy ship and the first fleet commander. Gravely spent 38 years in the Navy and served in three separate wars.
Melanie Higgins served as the admiral's top aide during his last tour of duty in 1980. During her six month tour, Higgins said she experienced Gravely's outstanding leadership first hand.
"He was never too busy to offer mentoring to any junior officer. He was probably a beacon of light to these young men and women and certainly gave them something to aspire towards," Higgins said.
Higgins also described the hardships Gravely faced as the Navy's first African American officer. During his time in the Navy, Higgins said it was socially acceptable to discriminate against black officers.
"When he was first commissioned and his ship landed in Florida, he was arrested for impersonating an officer," Higgins said. "I was very proud to serve with him and very proud that he has this awesome ship named after him."
When asked about what she thought Gravely would say about the commissioning, Higgins said, "I don't think he would say too much. He would be very proud but he was very humble."