Cmdr. Merle Smith, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who was the first Black graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, died June 16 at age 76.
Smith “was a trailblazer and extraordinary Coast Guardsman, heroic in combat and truly stayed linked to the Coast Guard Academy, and leaves a long legacy there,” Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told the House Homeland Security Committee at the beginning of a hearing this week.
Smith was second African American to receive an appointment to the Academy and the first to graduate in 1966.
“The Coast Guard, the Academy, and the New London community lost a true hero and friend,” the Academy said. “We send our heartfelt support and appreciation to his wife Lynda, the Smith family, and all of his classmates, shipmates and friends.”
Smith served in the Vietnam War and was the first African-American officer to command a U.S. warship in close quarters combat.
He later returned to the Coast Guard Academy to teach law and coach football, and served on active duty until 1979. He then served in the Coast Guard Reserves for nine years.
In the private sector, Smith served on the legal team at Electric Boat.