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Merle Smith (1944–2021), first Black graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

by Linnea Crowther

Cmdr. Merle Smith was a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who was the first Black graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Coast Guard pioneer

Smith entered the Coast Guard Academy in 1962, playing football for the school as a defensive end. He graduated with a degree in marine engineering in 1966. Smith went on to serve in the Vietnam War, where he rose to command the cutters Point Mast and Point Ellis, becoming the first Black officer to command a U.S. warship in close quarters combat. He was honored with a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. After the war, Smith attended law school at George Washington University and taught law at the Coast Guard Academy, as well as coaching the football team. He remained in active duty service until 1979 and remained with the Coast Guard Reserves for another nine years. In later years, Smith was part of the legal team at Electric Boat, one of the first Black general counsels for a Fortune 500 company.

Tributes to Merle Smith

Full obituary: The Day

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