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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Sept. 13, 2021

Fair winds: Adm. James S. Gracey

By MyCG Staff

Retired Adm,. James Steele Gracey, 17th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, was interred in Arlington National Cemetery today. 

Gracey left an amazing legacy as our 17th commandant. He led the Coast Guard through a challenging budget era, significant maritime operations (including the Grenada Invasion), marine safety enhancements, major acquisitions, and personnel changes to improve our service. He also led the armed forces in the integration of women, both officer and enlisted.  

“I got a reputation of being an active proponent for a full role for women in the military," Gracey shared in his oral history for the U.S. Naval Institute. "It surprised me a couple of times. I’d go to some event where there were Navy women, and I’d be introduced and there’d be this big cheer and people would come up and talk to me just because I’d been so outspoken on the subject. ‘Why are you so interested?’ I’d be asked. My answer always was, ‘Because we can’t afford to ignore 51% of the talent in this country.’ And I was certainly right—about the Coast Guard anyway.

Another story he tells is about his decision to send Lt. Cmdr. Vivien Crea to be the first woman Military Presidential Aide, for President Ronald Reagan.   

“One day I was called by a senior staffer from the White House—can’t remember his name—who said that President Reagan wanted to know why he didn't have a Coast Guard officer as one of his Military Aides. My response was that I had been wondering the same thing myself and would be very happy to remedy that situation. He asked me to give him a list of candidates from whom the President might choose. At the top of the list of candidates we submitted I had us put the name of Lt. Cmdr. Vivien Crea. She had been one of my pilots in CG-01, and I knew her as a person of considerable talent and poise and personality—and, in my opinion, one destined for a great future in the Coast Guard. I was told that women were not assigned as President's Aides. What an opportunity! I thought it would be wonderful for the Coast Guard to be the only service represented by a woman among the President's Aides, and I was sure Vivien would do us proud. So, realizing it was a long shot, we sent the list off to the White House.

“I got some feedback about how the process went. I learned there was some considerable concern among the President's staff, because he was clearly intrigued by the idea of having a woman serving as one of his aides. One line of defense I heard they used was, 'But, Mr. President, the football'—referring, of course, to the code book that Presidential Aides are responsible for having available at all times. He saw no problem with that. ‘But what about the bathroom?’ He was reported to have said, ‘I grew up in a house with six women and one bathroom. I think Vivien and I can work that out.’ She was selected and served a full assignment with President Reagan. And I glowed—smugly.”

Gracey passed away April 5, 2020, in Falls Church, Virginia, at the age of 92. He is survived by his wife of almost 71 years, Randy; their daughter, Cheryl, and son, Kevin; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Pamela.

Thank you, Admiral Gracey, for your leadership and kindness. Semper Paratus.