Daisy Mae Morgan, the first African American woman to serve on a Naval aircraft carrier, died June 5. She was 67.
Morgan, a resident of Temple Hills, Maryland, was one of 17 children from a nationally renowned North Florida family. She served aboard the USS Lexington, the Navy’s last wooden deck carrier that trained many aviators.
Upon retirement, she started a new career as a Junior ROTC instructor at Northwestern High School, where she educated hundreds of students.
Born July 6, 1951, in Marianna, Florida, Morgan joined the Navy in 1971 after she left her job at Texas Southern University where she worked in the Upward Bound program. She had moved to Houston to earn a high school diploma in the Job Corps.
“I noticed the uniform that the Navy recruiter was wearing and I saw a sign that said, ‘See the world,’ and I was sold,” said Morgan in a February 2018 interview with the Washington AFRO American.
This marked the beginning of a military career that included 20 years of active duty and another 18 years as a Naval ROTC instructor.
“I joined the Navy to see the world but I never thought that I would make history and my picture would be on the wall at the Pentagon,” said Morgan, who spent the first eight years assigned to an anti-submarine squadron where she had administrative duties. “In those days women were prohibited from combat duty so, by law, we had desk jobs.”
Morgan volunteered for extra duty by flying with crews on the Navy’s cargo planes. During her service, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was permitted to leave. Nonetheless, she decided to remain and reenlist after eight years in uniform.
“I had two choices,” she said. “They said I could push boots [work at the boot camp] or go to an aircraft carrier because women were just being accepted.”
In July 1980, Morgan arrived at the pier of the Pensacola Naval Air Station and gazed at her new floating home. She was one of about 50 women to go aboard a carrier that trained thousands of naval officers how to land on the ship, which was critical to the Navy’s war efforts in Vietnam and the Pacific.
“I saw a large gray vessel moored with a lot of male sailors engaged in busy work,” Morgan said. “I was met with resistance coming aboard for the first time … being grilled on the ships terms and procedures while bystanders made negative comments and gestures.”
Despite being in a “man’s world,” Morgan said she was uniquely trained for the moment.
“I grew up with 12 brothers and five sisters and we all had the same parents who were God-fearing and didn’t play,” she said. “My mother, Annie Morgan, was a wonderful role model as a mother and a teacher and my dad, Walter Morgan, was a hardworking father and provider.”
She said growing up in the rural town of Mariana, about two hours east of Pensacola, was not easy.
“We picked peas, milked the cows, picked cotton, hoed peanuts and picked blackberries so my mother could bake cobblers,” Morgan said, tasks she said prepared her for the toughness required for serving in the armed forces.
During her three years on the Lexington, Morgan was promoted to Petty Officer First Class. Her duties included assisting women in making the transition from civilian life to working on an aircraft carrier.
“I took a lot of hard knocks,” Morgan said. “Some male sailors were mean-spirited and abusive. It varied in verbal, emotional and physical abuse and I experienced some inappropriate touching.”
While many women speak out today without fear, Morgan the atmosphere in the 1980s was much tougher and women had few avenues for protest.
“I felt a lack of trust for being on the ship with married husbands,” she said. “None of this abuse set me back, but it made me stronger and more determined to persevere with a forgiving spirit. I worked hard to earn respect from all of the men and being assigned to Master-At-Arms forces for my first six months helped.
“Sea duty and ship living isn’t for everyone but I know God made it all possible,” Morgan said. “I had to adjust to sleeping in small racks. … There was no real privacy, constant noise of bells, whistles to awaken us.”
Morgan married Frank Hadley while he was stationed in Germany. They had two children, David and James, and moved to Temple Hills, where they lived for many years before divorcing.
After her active-duty career, Morgan became an ROTC instructor at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville and she remained from 1993 until 2011. Much of that time she taught young people how to wear the uniform, drill, military history and other ceremonial duties. There were also many field trips back to the ships and the Pentagon, which bears a plaque inscribed with her name on a wall.
Morgan received many letters and awards during her military career tenure, and many of the letters from high school students who called her “a mother” they could always count on. She also worked as volunteer at the USO supporting traveling soldiers at Thurgood Marshall BWI and Ronald Reagan National Airport. In addition, she volunteered at Arlington Nation Cemetery with the Navy Ladies of Arlington and she worked in the Children’s Ministry at Mt. Baptist Church.
Morgan was preceded in death by her parents, Walter and Annie Logan, and brothers Sam and Zachariah Morgan. She is survived by two sons, David Lee and James Boaz; two grandchildren, Logan Lee Hadley and Zayla Rose Hadley; five sisters, Betty, Marie, Patricia, Geraldine and Nadine; 10 brothers, Joseph, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, John, Paul, Randolph, Nepton, Elijah, Isaiah and Walter; and numerous other relatives and friends.