On September 1, 2014 I officially retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve after receiving my final letter from the Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee. I held my retirement ceremony on September 27 at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia.
It was an event that my family and friends attended, and where my Shipmates participated in and made it a special event. As the guest speaker, my friend Commander Michael Cody—Fourth Fleet public affairs Officer—eloquently recalled my journey from the Navy recruiter’s office through multiple deployments at sea and on the ground, my mind recalled the giants of the Navy that I came to know during various stages of my career. These Sailors blazed trails in the Navy, heroically defeated America’s enemies in wartime, or created paths to Navy success for minorities and women.
In 1980, while working as a newly minted Navy journalist with Surface Force Pacific Fleet Public Affairs in San Diego, I was honored to meet Adm. Samuel Gravely, the Navy’s first African-American flag officer, while I was covering a ship’s commissioning at Naval Station San Diego. Among a string of impressive firsts, Gravely was also the first African American to command a U.S. fleet, the Third Fleet.
In 1990, while working as a reporter with Navy News newspaper in Virginia Beach, Va., I met and interviewed retired Boatswain Mate First Class (and honorary Chief) James Elliott Williams, the most decorated enlisted Sailor in the history of the United States Navy. In 1966, Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack with two river patrol boats under his command on a numerically superior Vietcong position in the Mekong Delta during a three-hour battle that killed numerous Viet Cong guerrillas, destroyed over fifty vessels, and disrupted a major enemy logistic operation.
In 1996, while attending an event at a hotel in Washington, D.C., I met and talked with retired Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, a decorated officer and the Navy’s youngest Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), who served during the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, Zumwalt issued a series of policy changes known as “Z grams” that sought and did change outdated Navy policies that contributed to racism and sexism in the Navy. Today’s diversity in the Navy can be traced to the policies that Zumwalt issued as CNO.
The last giant of the Navy is not that well known, but he non-the-less had a big influence on my life and career in the Navy. He is my father, Alvin Clement Mapp. My father served in the Navy from 1950 to 1955 aboard the escort aircraft carrier USS Block Island (CVE-106). My father’s sea bag hung in a shed on my grandfather’s property, and he showed me the contents of the bag when I was about six years old. The two items I remember most was my father’s serge blue Navy crackerjack uniform and the beret-style cover known affectionately as the “Donald Duck” hat. My father served in the Navy at a time when diversity was a foreign word; as a result, he decided to leave the Navy despite his love of the sea. His favorite words to me were “…don’t let anything get you down.” I held those words close to my heart as I forged ahead with my career in the Navy, Marine Corps Reserve, and finally, the Navy Reserve.
Each of the aforementioned Sailors displayed a great deal of honor, courage, and commitment during very challenging moments in history. As a result of their service and the service of others, I am proud to say that I am a permanent part of the greatest Navy in the world.