ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — The Coast Guard honored Ralph Berry, the service’s first African American diver, Tuesday, in a ceremony at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City.
In 1979, Berry became the first African American to graduate from the Navy Dive and Salvage Center in Panama City, Florida. He was assigned to the Atlantic Strike Team in Elizabeth City, and dove on the sunken Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn in 1980. Berry was also attached to the Coast Guard Cutter Basswood in Guam, and the Coast Guard Cutter Sassafras in Hawaii.
Altogether Berry’s family has more than 400 years of combined service in the Coast Guard, which includes Richard Etheridge, the first African American to command a Life-Saving Station.
The ceremony saw active duty members of the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard’s dive program and family and friends of Berry in attendance.
“The Coast Guard is proud to celebrate and recognize a member who continually challenged himself and kept true to the Coast Guard core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty,” said Capt. Lamont Bazemore, chief of enlisted personnel for the Fifth District. “In 1994 I was attending Elizabeth City State University when I received a flyer over the Christmas break about the Minority Officer Recruitment Effort program. Chief Berry shepherded me through the recruitment process, but more importantly, seeing a Black man in a leadership position helped me to see myself in the Coast Guard. Chief Berry was always a soft-spoken, supportive leader. It was my honor today to shake his hand and thank him for opening a door to my more than 27 years of service.”