William Goines, First Black Navy SEAL, Dies at 87 - The World News

William Goines, First Black Navy SEAL, Dies at 87

William Goines, who overcame racial obstacles in his Ohio hometown, as well as in the military, before becoming the first Black man to be chosen for the modern-era Navy SEALs in the early 1960s, died on June 10 in Virginia Beach. He was 87.

The cause of death, in a hospital, was a heart attack, said Marie Goines, his wife of 58 years and only immediate survivor.

Mr. Goines, who grew up in Lockland, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, retired from the Navy in 1987 as a master chief petty officer. In his 32 years in uniform, which included three tours of duty during the Vietnam War, he received several decorations, including a Bronze Star and a Navy Commendation Medal.

After the war, he joined the Chuting Stars, the U.S. Navy parachute exhibition team, performing 640 jumps over five years. Mr. Goines later volunteered as a recruiter, scouting for candidates of color to join the SEALs.

Despite serving with distinction, he faced no shortage of barriers as a Black man enlisting in 1955, about nine years after the Navy was integrated.

The Navy “tracked all African Americans to go into the steward rating, which was waiting on officers, cooking for officers,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2016. “They tried to track me into that, but I had a guy in my hometown in Lockland who said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t accept a school for stewards because all you’re going to be is a servant for officers.’”

He avoided that fate, and became an inaugural member of one of the United States military’s most hallowed special operations units.

The United States Navy Sea, Air and Land Teams, as the SEALs are officially known, were established in 1962 under President John F. Kennedy as part of a buildup of the nation’s special forces in light of Cold War tensions in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

A successor to the Navy’s underwater demolition teams, known as frogmen, which began operations during World War II, the SEALs are known for taking on the most daring of clandestine missions, including counter-guerrilla warfare, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, high-altitude parachuting and underwater demolition.

The maritime commandos have been mythologized in countless television shows and films like “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), starring Jessica Chastain in Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award-winning recounting of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden by the fabled SEAL Team 6.

In his second year in the Navy, Mr. Goines volunteered for the notoriously grueling underwater demolition team training, and was one of 14 in his class to make the cut. In 1962, he was selected as one of 40 original members of SEAL Team 2, based in Virginia Beach.

He was given few specifics about what the job would entail. “I remember asking this lieutenant what was our mission going to be,” he said in a 2019 interview with NBC News, “and he said, ‘It’s too secret to talk about.’”

Mr. Goines is widely credited as the first Black member of the SEALs, although another African American, Fred Morrison, who was known as Tiz and by the nickname “King of the Frogmen,” was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroics in the Korean War as a member of the underwater demolition team.

While eventually hailed as a trailblazer, Mr. Goines faced discrimination in the early years, including from a few of his fellow SEALs, he said in a 2018 interview with The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

In a state with a long history of segregation, Mr. Goines at times struggled to even find a place to unwind with his fellow SEALs. On one group excursion to a bar in nearby Norfolk, he was denied entrance until fellow team members threatened to leave. The bar relented, and even set him up with free drinks.

“Norfolk was really hell back in those days,” he said, adding, “I helped integrate a lot of places — not on purpose.”

William Harvey Goines was born on Sept. 10, 1936, in Dayton, Ohio, and moved to Lockland as a child.

His father, who passed for white, found work in the automobile industry as well as at a pool hall, and at one point co-owned a gas station, but he sometimes lost jobs when employers found out that he was married to a Black woman.

William encountered discrimination first hand as a youth. “When I was growing up, I never knew there was a public swimming pool in Lockland,” he told The Enquirer. “We were never allowed to swim in that pool. When integration came to the area, the way I understand it, they filled the pool in with rocks and gravel so nobody could swim in it.”

Instead, he traveled to a public pool in a nearby town that admitted African Americans for a few hours on Saturday mornings, although owners drained and refilled the pool after they left.

Nevertheless, Mr. Goines remained undaunted in his goals. While at the all-Black Lockland Wayne High School, he saw the 1951 World War II movie “The Frogmen,” starring Richard Widmark and Dana Andrews.

“My fate was sealed right there,” he later said. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

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