Master Chief William Goines, first Black Navy SEAL, passes away at 88

The first Black sailor to serve as a modern-era Navy SEAL wasn’t allowed to use the public pool in his Ohio hometown. Still, William Goines left Lockland, Ohio at 19 to join the Navy, soon became one of just a handful of early Black ‘frogmen’ and was eventually the only Black sailor picked to help form the first SEAL teams.

“I never knew there was a public swimming pool in Lockland. … We were never allowed to swim in that pool,” he told the Cincinnatti Enquirer in 2016. Still, he learned to swim in the Little Miami River and occasionally got to visit a pool that allowed Black to use the pool in the town of Hartwell.

“They allowed black kids to swim there on Saturdays only from 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock,” Goines said. “At 12 o’clock the whistle blew, and we were out of the pool, and they would drain it and get it ready for the white kids.”

Goines, died this week at 88 in Norfolk, Virginia.

Goines joined the Navy in 1955 after seeing a film called ‘The Frogman,’ about Navy underwater demolition teams, or UDTs, the precursor units of SEALs. A year later he volunteered for arduous UDT training and was one of 14 graduates to make it.

In 1962, he became one of 40 SEAL “plankowners” that reported to Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia to found SEAL Team 2.

Goines was not the first Black sailor in the UDT teams. Fred “Tiz” Morrison, who the Navy Seal Museum credits as the first Black ‘frogman,’ joined the early commando unit in the final days of World War II and saw action in Korea. But Morrison did not migrate to a SEAL team before retiring in 1962.

The current commander of Naval Special Warfare, Rear Admiral Keith Davids, said Goines holds a special place in SEAL history.

“Master Chief William ‘Bill’ Goines was a true pioneer and an inspiration to us all,” Davids said in an email to Task & Purpose. “His legacy is one of courage, dedication, and unwavering commitment, not only to his teammates but to the broader community he served. Bill’s contributions to Naval Special Warfare and his post-service efforts to recruit the next generation of naval commandos have left an indelible mark on our community.”

Goines, who spoke three languages, served three tours in Vietnam and retired from the Navy in 1987 as a Master Chief Petty Officer after 32 years of service. His decorations include a Bronze Star and Navy Commendation Medal.

After retiring, he was the chief of police for a school system in Portsmith, Virginia for 14 years. He worked throughout his later life to find and mentor SEAL recruits in Black and other underrepresented communities. In 2021, the Associated Press reported that about 84% of enlisted SEALs and Special Warfare Combat Crewmen were white, while just 2% were Black (95% of SEAL/SWCC officers were white). For comparison, the Army’s special forces were also 84% white, the AP reported, with Black soldiers accounting for about 4%.

In 2023, the United States Navy Memorial named Goines the recipient of the Lone Sailor Award, which is given to veterans who have “excelled with distinction in their respective careers during or after their service.”

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Matt White

Senior Editor

Matt White is a senior editor at Task & Purpose. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.