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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Coast Guard Academy renames officers club after first black graduate, retired Cmdr. Merle Smith

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

    The Coast Guard Academy announced Tuesday that it is renaming its Military Officers Club after retired Cmdr. Merle J. Smith of New London, the first black graduate of the academy.

    The 75-year-old Smith graduated from the academy in 1966 and went on to become the first African American sea service officer to receive the Bronze Star. Following his Coast Guard career, he became general counsel for Electric Boat, one of the first black general counsels for a Fortune 500 company.

    He is included in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

    Smith’s classmates, in a letter congratulating him on the recognition, said “in recent years, as the emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness grew within the Coast Guard, you became a beacon of inspiration within the academy community encouraging others to strive for the unimaginable and forge new paths of greatness in the face of adversity and uncertainty.”

    Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, superintendent at the academy, said in a video message Tuesday that he first met Smith and his wife, Lynda, earlier this year, and talked about opportunities to recognize and honor his legacy.

    “They would come back here to meet with family, with friends, with faculty members, with cadets. It was an anchor for them, if you will.” Kelly said of the officers club, adding that Lynda told him they also enjoyed coming to the club on Friday nights to hang out.

    In an email thanking Kelly for renaming the building after Smith, Lynda said her husband "not only feels honored but also humbled by this significant recognition of a building being renamed in tribute of his accomplishments."

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