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Wesley Brown dies at 85; first black graduate of Naval Academy

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first African American graduate of the

U.S. Naval Academy

, died Tuesday in

Silver Spring

, Md., the Naval Academy's alumni association announced from

Annapolis

, Md. He was 85 and had

cancer

.

A 1949 graduate, Brown was appointed to the academy in 1945. He was the sixth black student admitted but the first to earn a degree.

Brown "embodied the highest ideals of the academy's mission and dedicated himself to decades of selfless and distinguished service to our nation," Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, the Naval Academy's superintendent, said in a statement.

Wesley Anthony Brown was born April 3, 1927, in Baltimore and grew up in

Washington, D.C.

; his father drove a delivery truck and his mother worked at a dry cleaner. He attended

Howard University

before his appointment to Annapolis.

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At the Naval Academy, Brown studied engineering and ran varsity track and cross-country. One of his cross-country teammates was former

President Jimmy Carter

.

In a 2005 interview with the Annapolis Capital newspaper, Brown said he spent his four years at the academy without a roommate by choice. He said he didn't want to feel responsible for unwilling or friendly white midshipmen.

He was featured in the book "Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy's First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality," by Navy historian Robert J. Schneller Jr. The author said in a 2005 interview that upperclassmen would give Brown excessive demerits for allegedly not maintaining his uniform properly and some classmates would not sit next to him in the cafeteria.

Brown, a veteran of

World War II

, the

Korean War

and the

Vietnam War

, had a 20-year career as a civil engineer with the Navy. He helped build houses in Hawaii, roads in Liberia, waterfront facilities in the Philippines, and a seawater conversion plant in

Guantanamo Bay

, Cuba.

After retiring from the Navy in 1969, he was a construction project manager for the state of New York and a facilities planner for Howard University.

In 2008, the Naval Academy constructed the Wesley Brown Field House to accommodate physical education classes as well as the academy's athletic programs.

Brown is survived by his wife of 50 years, Crystal; two daughters; two sons; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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