William Goines, the man credited with being the first Black Navy SEAL in the modern SEAL team era, passed away Monday, June 10, the U.S. Naval Institute confirmed. He was 88 years old.

Born in 1936, Goines’ childhood in Lockland, Ohio, was spent in a segregated community where the town’s lone public pool may as well have been a myth, Goines told the Cincinnati-based Enquirer in 2016.

“We were never allowed to swim in that pool,” he said. “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.”

Yet the Ohio native was drawn to the water. Inspired to join the Navy after watching the film “The Frogmen” — about underwater demolition operations during World War II — Goines enlisted in 1955 at the age of 19.

“My fate was sealed right there,” Goines recalled of the movie. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

Yet race once again almost kept Goines from his calling.

“They tracked all African Americans to go into the steward rating, which was waiting on officers, cooking for officers,” he told the Enquirer. “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 took his friend’s advice and, after an 11-month tour in Malta, Goines was among the first group chosen to serve on the newly established SEAL teams. Of the 80 men selected upon the official 1962 inception of the teams, Goines was the only Black man.

Although Fred “Tiz” Morrison is often credited with being the nation’s first Black Navy SEAL — Morrison served in the Navy’s underwater demolition teams during WWII and Korea — Goines has the distinction of being the first Black Navy SEAL as the SEAL teams are known today.

Albeit forever tight-lipped on the specifics of his missions, Goines was selected to be one of the first to land in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, recalling, “We were on ships just sailing around the Cuban country waiting to make a landing there.”

Goines went on to serve three tours in Vietnam with SEAL teams before serving five years with the Chuting Stars, a Navy Parachute Demonstration Team.

“We jumped out of everything,” he told the Enquirer. “We even jumped out of balloons in France and Belgium, just experimenting.”

After 32 years of service, Goines retired in 1987 as a master chief petty officer. His many commendations include the Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Presidential Unit Citation.

Following his retirement, Goines remained devoted to his nation and community, first working as the police chief in the Portsmouth, Virginia, school system for more than a decade, and later volunteering to help recruit minorities into the SEALs, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Reflecting on his life in 2016, Goines stated that despite myriad challenges — including prostate cancer possibly linked to Agent Orange — “I’ve enjoyed my life immensely. Of all the things that I’ve been through, I don’t regret anything.”

Goines will be laid to rest on June 21 at Bank Street Memorial Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.

Claire Barrett is the Strategic Operations Editor for Sightline Media and a World War II researcher with an unparalleled affinity for Sir Winston Churchill and Michigan football.

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