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.)
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.