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First African-American Commander US Navy Aircraft Carrier Honored In San Diego

Ret. Admiral Larry Cleveland Chambers is honored by San Diego County's Urban ...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Ret. Admiral Larry Cleveland Chambers is honored by San Diego County's Urban League. July 3, 2018

“Perseverance still is king, time is sure reward to bring."

For retired Admiral Larry Cleveland Chambers, those words by African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar are words to live by.

Chambers is the first African-American to command a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, and the first African-American graduate of the Naval Academy to reach flag rank. On Tuesday, San Diego County’s Urban League saluted Chambers and other African-American military leaders in a City Heights event just ahead of the Fourth of July Holiday.

Chambers fought for the liberties and freedoms of a country that at the time wouldn't even allow him to vote.

“Truman integrated the armed services in 1948, which was the year I went into the Naval Academy, but attitudes did not change overnight. It took time and working on it," Chambers said.

He said he was able to push past the hurdles because of those who came before him and broke racial barriers, like Sam Gravely, the first African-American to command a Navy ship.

“Sam’s first ship, he was discriminated against but he was tough and he decided that they weren't going to shake him down and that he was going to make it. He was a trailblazer for all of us, and every time I thought I was being mistreated I talk about Sam and I thought, 'Hell, if Sam can do it I know I can do it,'" said Chambers, who commanded the USS Midway during Operation Frequent Wind, the final evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.

The Midway is now a museum, and partnered with the Urban League and the National Naval Officers Association to put on Tuesday's tribute breakfast.

As he shared his story of perseverance, Chambers credited mentorship, and said he hopes those who come after him embrace it the same way he did.

"It’s all about the kids. We're trying to save them and that's what we're about,” Chambers said.

San Diego County’s Urban League hosted a salute to African-American military leaders. One of those leaders, who made naval history, is retired Admiral Larry Cleveland Chambers. He commanded the USS Midway.

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