ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- In the U.S. Naval Academy chapel naval leadership joined hundreds of supporters and family members June 6 to honor the life of a trailblazer and first African-American graduate of the Naval Academy.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown passed away May 22.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, among several speakers at the memorial service, highlighted a special day when he and his wife hosted Brown and his wife at their home to hear about Brown's life and naval career.
"I was honored to have met Brown through my classmate Kerwin Miller who arranged the luncheon at our quarters and introduced Wesley and Crystal to Darleen and I," said Greenert. "He was a humble, courageous and resilient person - a true pioneer in our Navy."
During an interview after the April luncheon Brown remarked that he was impressed with CNO and appreciated the direction he is taking the Navy.
"We had a nice and honest discussion about the Navy from when I was at the Naval Academy to now," said Brown.
Brown voluntarily enlisted in the Army at the age of 17. After serving in the Army, he enrolled at the Naval Academy in 1945 and then was commissioned in 1949. Brown's military service included fighting in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He built homes in Hawaii, roads in Liberia, wharves in the Philippines, a nuclear power plant in Antarctica, and a desalination plant in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Brown said his military experience was undoubtedly very different from that of today's service members, but that his active duty service was very memorable.
"I am very proud of the fact that we did change from a segregated service and made it into a positive one," said Brown.
While discussing two African-American military leaders that achieved four-star rank and the current African-American president, Brown humbly recognized that his service has affected today's Sailors.
"I think I have had an influence on Sailors, both male and female, in terms of racial discrimination and their choice in joining the armed forces," said Brown. "And I think that is a very positive thing."
Greenert and several of the memorial service speakers commented on Brown's courage, leadership and pioneer spirit - Brown shaped today's Navy and taught the service to capitalize on the strengths of all Sailors.
"I will most remember Wesley's positive recollection of a difficult and challenging time at the Naval Academy, enduring hazing and bigotry," said Greenert after the ceremony. "Though the barriers he faced were plentiful, he demonstrated repeatedly that one person can make a difference and bring about real change."
Brown maintained a successful career after retiring from the Navy as a faculty member at Howard University, and he served as chairman of District of Columbia Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton's Service Academy Selection Board.
He grew up in Baltimore and entered the Naval Academy in 1945. He was an accomplished runner as a Midshipman and the Naval Academy recently dedicated the Wesley Brown Field House in his honor.
"Although he was grateful for the opportunities he was given, it is we who should be thankful for his courage and leadership," said Greenert. "Our Navy and nation are better thanks to Wesley Brown and his family."
As Brown reminisced about his life, he expressed much gratitude for every opportunity afforded to him. And as he recounted his lunch with the top Navy officer or watching track meets hosted in a facility named after him, Brown references a line from one of his favorite musicals.
"You have to have a dream," he said. "If you don't have a dream, how are you going to make a dream come true?"
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