It is with great sadness that I let our NNOA Family know of the passing of Commander Merle Smith, the first African American to graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy. More will be shared and I know your prayers and thoughts are welcomed by his family.
It is with great sadness that I inform you that CDR Merle James Smith, USCG (retired), passed away on June 16th, 2021 in New London, CT. As many of you know, CDR Smith is the namesake of the Eclipse Legacy Coalitions “Merle J. Smith Eclipse Legacy Endowment,” which was established in 2017. Merle J. Smith was the second African American to receive an appointment to the Academy and the first to graduate in June of 1966. He was characterized as an excellent CGA Cadet, excelling with hard work in the classroom, in the barracks and on the football field. CDR Smith Served as the Commanding Officer of a Patrol Boat during the Vietnam War and achieved his Juris Doctor, becoming a licensed attorney in 1974, all before being assigned to the Coast Guard Academy law faculty in 1975. It was then that LT Smith’s impact at CGA would become legendary as a teacher, mentor and coach. He served as the Class Advisor for the class of 1977, as an assistant football coach under the great Otto Graham and was an inspirational example for many of the young cadets to follow. Including the class of 1978’s VADM Manson Brown, USCG (ret), who would tout “LT Smith modeled for us what we could become in the Coast Guard. As such, he added to our motivation to stay and do the hard work necessary to thrive at the Academy.”
There is so much more to learn and remember about CDR Merle J. Smith, and the Eclipse Legacy Coalition will provide more details as time goes. However, for a couple of great reads on CDR Smith’s legacy please read:
The Long Blue Line: Merle Smith – the first African American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy « Coast Guard COAST GUARD COMPASS (dodlive.mil)
The Day – Coast Guard Academy renames officers club after first black graduate, retired Cmdr. Merle Smith – News from southeastern Connecticut
CDR Pickrum was an early NNOA member and supporter. He was the first USCG Academy grad to earn the “Navy Wings of Gold” and played a major roll in mentoring other aviators in and out of uniform. CDR Pikrum was one of the key supporters in bringing the Coast Guard to the table for NNOA.
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