Leaving active duty at war's end, he was recalled for a one-year tour of recruiting duty in 1949, when a presidential order integrated the armed services. Fate intervened in the form of the Korean War, and Sam Gravely did not leave the Navy again for nearly 40 more years. Though he preferred to think of himself simply as a Navy man doing the job he loved, he was a trailblazer and was often in the spotlight as he achieved new milestones in America's quest for racial equality. In 1962, he and George Thompson became the first black officers to attend the Naval War College. He was the first African American to command a U.S. Navy warship, the USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717); the first to command an American warship under combat conditions, the USS Taussig (DD-746); the first to become an admiral; the first to rise to the rank of vice admiral; and the first to command a U.S. Fleet, the Third Fleet.
In rather stark contrast to all of those momentous achievements, another side of this man is evident in an event that took place in 1994. At the request of the director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy (an experimental school in the inner city area of Baltimore) the long-retired admiral donned his uniform, drove many miles at his own expense, and spent the entire day talking with young cadets, encouraging them to stay in school and take advantage of life's opportunities. Those who knew Sam Gravely well would not doubt that he preferred those few hours as a role model for young people over much of the attention he received while conquering mountains of prejudice and permanently opening new doors at nearly every level of his service.