NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- Great Lakes Naval Museum hosted a celebration of the Navy's diversity Feb. 25, as part of the Centennial of Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL).
Naval Station Great Lakes is celebrating its centennial with a year-long series of events, which will include the official birthday celebration July 1.
Rear Admiral Mack Gaston, former Great Lakes commander, was the guest speaker. He took the opportunity to talk about the Golden 13, the Navy's first African-American officers, and their contributions to today's Navy.
"In January 1944, 12 ensigns and one warrant officer were appointed and sent to Camp Smalls for indoctrination and training," said Gaston. "Their officers and instructors, sadly, were not all on their side, but the young men were brilliant and unwavering.
"They stuck it out through every difficulty. Finally, the day came for the final comprehensive test of Officer Candidate School," he continued. "When their test results went to the Pentagon, there was dismay and disbelief. The Golden 13 had scored the highest grades that had ever been recorded in Navy history. The record still stands," said Gaston.
The afternoon event included a ribbon-cutting for the museum's new diversity exhibit.
The new exhibit was built, "to pay tribute to those Sailors who helped the Navy become a diverse organization," said Jennifer Searcy, director of the Great Lakes Naval Museum, and mistress of ceremonies for the event.
The exhibit includes a uniform coat worn by a member of the Golden 13, a timeline about the diversity of the Navy in general and Great Lakes in particular and artifacts from diversity pioneers.
"Without the diversity pioneers who are commemorated in this exhibit, we would not have the strong Navy that we have today," said Capt. John Malfitano, NSGL commanding officer. "These men and women exemplified our core values of honor, courage and commitment."
"Our Navy truly is a place where men and women of every cultural background proudly take the lead, bringing their different skills, backgrounds and talents to bear every day, creating an atmosphere of achievement," said Gaston. "The Navy believes that embracing diversity is vital to both the present and future as a military organization and as a nation. The Navy is committed to doing its absolute best to make sure every young man or woman who hears the call to serve is welcomed into a family they will proudly call their own for the rest of their lives - a family that exists like no other on land, at sea or in the air."
As an official Department of the Navy museum, Great Lakes Naval Museum's mission is to select, collect, preserve, and interpret the history of the U.S. Navy with particular emphasis on the Navy's only recruit training center at Naval Station Great Lakes.
The museum is located at the Great Lakes Naval Station by the Main Gates. Admission and parking are free.
The next major Centennial event will be a roundtable discussion featuring former Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) from World War II through the Cold War era on March 29 at Ross Theater.
For more news from Commander, Navy Region Midwest/Naval Station Great Lakes, visit www.navy.mil/local/midwest/.