Honoring An Academy Pioneer Dedicating the CDR Merle J. Smith Consolidated Club at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

In June 1966 CDR Merle J. Smith, USCGR (ret) completed a Bachelor of Science degree, becoming the first African American cadet to graduate from the Academy.

His hard work in the classroom, in the barracks, and on the football field characterized his time at the Academy. His commitment onboard CGA as a cadet stood apart.

(Merle J. Smith Jr., pictured with his father, U.S. Army Col. Merle J. Smith, Sr., and Coast Guard Commandant Willard J. Smith at the Academy commencement, 1966. U.S. Coast Guard photo.)

As a junior officer, his leadership in the fleet as a patrol boat commander during the Vietnam War also stood apart.

(Vice Adm. Thomas Sargent pins the Bronze Star Medal on Merle Smith for his service in Vietnam as a patrol boat commander in operations Market Time and Sea Lords. U.S. Coast Guard photo.)

In 1971, he entered the George Washington University Law School, graduating in 1974 earning his Juris Doctor and becoming a licensed attorney. In 1975, he was assigned to the law faculty at the Academy where he taught and was reunited with his mentor, Coach Otto Graham. He helped coach the Academy football team and served as Class Advisor for the Class of '77.

"Then 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." - VADM Manson Brown, USCG (ret), '78

(Photo of then LCDR Smith in the 1977 Tide Rips.)

While teaching at the Academy, one of the places CDR Smith enjoyed visiting most was the Officer's Club, eating lunch there on a regular basis. After teaching at the Academy, he transferred his commission to the Coast Guard Reserve and began a career as legal counsel for General Dynamics - Electric Boat in Groton. CDR Smith later held his retirement ceremony from Electric Boat at the Officer's Club.

CDR Merle J. Smith did not consider himself a pioneer of inclusion and diversity at the Academy. His primary concern was to serve his country and apply his military training like any other Coast Guardsman. CDR Smith's great service to his country and his courage to persevere in challenging times has inspired many minoritized men and women to follow his example.

When ENS Smith graduated in 1966 as the first African American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, he joined another pioneer, Joseph Jenkins, the first African American to graduate as a Reserve Officer from OCS on board CGA in 1943. Today we have acknowledged CDR Smith as a pioneer for Diversity and Inclusion. An Eclipse Award, the Merle Smith Pioneer Award, is named in his honor.

The legacy of both of these pioneers lives on through our future. This spring, as we send our 1/c cadets to the fleet as newly commissioned ensigns, almost 40% of our graduates will be women (the largest class ever) and nearly 35% identify as a cadet of color. For these reasons and more it is an honor to re-dedicate the Consolidated Club as the CDR Merle J. Smith Consolidated Club.

The newly-named CDR Merle J. Smith Consolidated Club will receive its new sign in the coming weeks.

When we come together to reflect, celebrate, or simply share a meal with each other at the newly re-dedicated club take a moment to consider the impact a single member's devotion to duty can have on our Academy, our Coast Guard, and our Nation.