By Cameron Knight, cincinnati.com
Segregation may have kept retired Master Chief William Goines from using Lockland’s only public pool, but it didn’t stop him from learning to swim and eventually joining the first teams of Navy SEALs.
Goines was a junior at Lockland Wayne High School when he saw a film that depicted Navy frogmen, who performed underwater demolition operations during World War II.
“My fate was sealed right there. That’s exactly what I wanted to do,” Goines said. Soon after, he headed to a Navy recruiter, who said he should graduate before he enlisted. Goines said this was fine because he knew his mother would never let him drop out of school.
After receiving his diploma, Goines enlisted in the Navy in 1955. The list of his achievements while serving the country for 32 years includes the Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon and the Presidential Unit Citation.
However, Goines’ life had humble beginnings. Born in 1936 in Dayton, he moved with his family to Lockland as a young child.
“My mother was strictly a home wife,” Goines said. “My father worked in the automobile industry. He worked in Oldsmobile doing menial jobs. He didn’t have any engineering skills, but my father could pass for white.”
His father also worked in a pool hall as a second job and at one point was co-owner of a gas station, but Goines said he often got fired from jobs.
“Not because they thought he was black, but he was married to a black woman with three children,” Goines said.
Despite this, Goines said his father was an excellent provider, especially for a man born in 1897 about 30 years after the end of the Civil War. During the era of his childhood, Goines said the war still echoed through the country and segregation was the norm.
“When I was growing up, I never knew there was a public swimming pool in Lockland. … We were never allowed to swim in that pool,” he recalled. “When integration came to the area, the way I understand it, they filled the pool in with rocks and gravel so nobody could swim in it.”
Goines learned to swim — a skill that would be crucial when he joined the Navy — in a nearby creek and the Little Miami River. However, he did remember occasionally traveling with his family to a pool in Hartwell.
“They allowed black kids to swim there on Saturdays only from 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock,” he 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 said he found a more-even playing field in the Navy, but race still held many African-Americans back.
“They tracked all African-Americans to go into the steward rating, which was waiting on officers, cooking for officers,” he said. “They tried to track me into that, but I had a guy in my hometown in Lockland who said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t accept a school for stewards because all you’re going to be is a servant for officers.'”
With that advice, Goines took a different path, and he said once he started serving in the Navy, his skills were recognized and rewarded.
After being promised training in his dream field of underwater demolition, Goines’ plans were changed by his superiors and he was sent to Malta. After 11 months in what he called “a paradise,” he was sent back to begin the hardest training of his life.
Goines began frogman training with five Army Rangers, two foreign Naval officers, four U.S. Navy officers and 85 other Navy enlisted men. After three weeks, Goines said all the Rangers and one of the foreign officers had dropped out. By the end, he was one of the 13 men left standing.
After graduating in 1957, President John F. Kennedy had begun to form the first two SEAL teams: SEAL Team One on the West Coast and SEAL Team Two on the East Coast. After individual interviews with superiors, Goines was one of 40 men chosen to join SEAL Team Two. He was the only African-American on either team.
It’s worth noting that Fred “Tiz” Morrison is often also given the honor of being the first African-American Navy SEAL. According to Navy records, Morrison served on the Navy’s underwater demolition teams during World War II. While Morrison’s service pre-dates Goines, it appears that he wasn’t actually a part of the first official SEAL teams in 1957.
“It was so secret back then, they wouldn’t even tell us what we were going to do,” Goines said, but he decided to join what was destined to become one of the most well-known special forces teams in the world.
In the infancy of the SEALs, Goines said the emphasis was on combining all the best training from all the branches of the military. He completed 43 different training schools.
From the Air Force, SEALs learned Judo, Aikido, and skills for escape and evasion. From the Army, they learned jungle warfare, kitchen table demolition, skydiving and weapons training. The Marines taught them reconnaissance, how to capture enemies and how to rescue fellow seamen. The Coast Guard showed them how to escape from plane and helicopter crashes over water. SEALs attended the Ranger School, as well.