William Goines (1936- )

Navy Parachute Team East in 1984 (William Goines top right)
Navy Parachute Team East in 1984 (William Goines top right)
Courtesy of the Navy SEAL Museum

In 1962, William “Bill” Goines became the first African American Navy SEAL. Navy SEALs are the United States Navy’s elite special operations force. SEAL is an acronym for Sea, Air, and Land, which indicates all the environments in which SEALs are trained to operate.

Goines was born in Dayton, Ohio, on September 10, 1936. As a child, his family moved to Lockland, Ohio. His mother, Lauretta Goines, was a homemaker. His father, Luther Goines, worked in a pool hall and the automotive industry and was co-owner of a gas station.

Goines attended all-Black Lockland Wayne High School and, while there, was captivated by the movie The Frogmen, which focused on the US Navy’s UDT or Underwater Demolition Teams, the precursors to SEALs. UDT members were formed to conduct reconnaissance, clear beaches, and destroy any obstacles that would impale landing craft during World War II.

Goines never knew Dayton had a public swimming pool since Blacks were not allowed. When state and federal officials required integration, the pool was filled with rocks and gravel. Goines taught himself to swim in a nearby creek, the Little Miami River, and a pool in Hartwell.

In 1955, Goines graduated from Lockland Wayne High School and joined the US Navy. Determined to become a UDT member, he was assigned to Malta for 11 months and then selected for UDT Training in Norfolk, Virginia. His class started with five Army Rangers, two foreign Naval Officers, four US Navy Officers, and 85 other enlisted men. Officers usually did not train alongside enlisted men, but all the men had to endure the same training and treatment for UDT training. In 1957, after three weeks of training, only 13 men, including Goines, graduated, while the rest quit or dropped out due to injury.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy created a new military unit, the Navy SEALs. SEAL Teams 1 (West Coast) and 2 (East Coast) were authorized to conduct unconventional warfare, counter-guerilla warfare, and clandestine operations. While UDT members were limited to underwater operations up to the beach, SEALs could conduct missions anywhere, anytime.

Goines volunteered to join the new Navy SEALs unit. After being selected, he attended 43 military training schools, which included unarmed combat, SERE school, jungle warfare, demolitions, Airborne school, reconnaissance, and Ranger school. Goines became “Plankowner” of SEAL Team 2, a term applied to original members of newly commissioned units. Fluent in French and Spanish, Goines served in Cuba, three tours in Vietnam, and other classified missions worldwide.

In 1976, 40-year-old Goines joined the Navy Parachute Demonstration Team, the Chuting Stars, and performed 640 free falls and 194 static line jumps over the course of five years. He was the Honor Student in his HALO (parachute insertion) class.

In 1987, after 32 years of service, Goines retired from the military as a Master Chief Petty Officer. His awards include the Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Presidential Unit Citation.

Goines continued to serve his country with a career in law enforcement. He became Police Chief for the school system of Portsmouth, Virginia, for 14 years. In 2016, he was honored at the opening of the Smithsonian’s African American Museum. In 2023, he received the Lone Sailor Award.