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Uncommon Hero: The John Seagraves Story

First-time Author David Seagraves Recounts Father’s Compelling Story of Heroism, Perseverance and Racism on the USS North Carolina Battleship

Author and War Hero in Wilmington May 16 – 19 for USS North Carolina Reunion
WILMINGTON, N.C. – First-time author David Seagraves knew his father served aboard the USS North Carolina during World War II, but knew nothing of his battles against racism and Kamikazes. It wasn’t until after the 2009 Battleship Reunion that he learned of his father’s heroics aboard the ship. As the first African American to break the racial barrier and operate a 20mm gun onboard, John Seagraves shot down a deadly Japanese Kamikaze attacker on April 14, 1945, dropping the near fatal flying bomb a mere 30 yards from the ship. This “defining moment” saved countless lives and the U.S. Navy’s most decorated and highly celebrated battleship. Photos of the gun crew and the Kamikaze’s ocean impact are still proudly displayed onboard the USS North Carolina today.

Inspired by the stories, David Seagraves recently penned his father’s biography in “Uncommon Hero, The John Seagraves Story,” a captivating tale of how John’s passion and determination helped him overcome poverty, racism, and a 4th grade education to impact American, African American, and Naval history. Seagraves will officially unveil the book for the first time at the USS North Carolina Reunion May 17-19 aboard the Battleship.

Seagraves will host a book signing on Saturday, May 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Ship Store. The book is available on for $22.95 for a paperback edition or $8.99 for a Kindle e-book edition.

“I wrote this book because my father had a fascinating story to tell,” said David Seagraves. “As I delved deeper into his past, I discovered that poverty taught him many useful things, tested his metal, and made him adapt regardless of his lack of education. He climbed out of dirt poor conditions in Georgia, built a career he was passionate about, and used his tireless work ethic to get what he wanted from life.” Buried within his body of work lies the relentless resolve of an uncommon hero.

Since his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1945, John Seagraves has owned many homes and businesses, traveled the world multiple times and at 85 continues to live a vibrant life with his wife Mildred, to whom he has been married for more than 63 years. His lifelong passion for cooking defined his success, both in and out of the Navy, and led to a 60+ year long career as a restauranteur and self-made man.

But success did not come easy to John Seagraves. He learned at a tender age that hard work overcame social, economic and racial obstacles, persevering in the face of adversity to achieve his goals. By age 10, John Seagraves quit school and found work to support his five younger sisters and a loving mother in dire financial need. John left his chldhood behind and became the family’s primary breadwinner, delivering vegetables, collecting scrap iron, selling rags, and learning the restaurant business. Just a few years later in June 1943, one week before his 17th birthday, John joined the Navy to “see the world and fly to exotic lands.”

“The war gave my father the ideal theater to demonstrate his desire to excel under fire,” said Seagraves, “although his first days in the Navy were a rude awakening. John was assigned to the Steward’s branch, which consisted of all black sailors serving white officers. The Navy at that time said that Negro seamen could not be elevated to any rank superior to that of white men, could not maintain discipline, and it was in the best interest of efficiency that Negros be restricted to acting as stewards.”

By February 1, 1943, the Navy had 26,909 Negroes: 6,662 in the general service, 2,020 in the Seabees, and 19,227 (over two thirds) in the Steward’s Branch.

But John Seagraves did not let the Navy’s racial challenges stop him. He was assigned to the USS North Carolina and refused to perform domestic duties, instead becoming well respected for his talents in the officers’ kitchen. Eventually he convinced his commanders to let him try his hand as a gunner. A spot had been created for eight black sailors on two 20-millimeter guns forward starboard, and although few expected them to succeed, Seagraves and his gun crew excelled.

John’s defining moment came on April 14, 1945. Seagraves’ black gun crew – a first for the battleship – spotted and shot down a crafty Japanese Kamikaze plane that slipped past dozens of American planes returning from an operation, and every spotter protecting the USS North Carolina.

“He finally proved himself when it mattered most,” said Seagraves. “John Seagraves was now a gunner, no different than any other gunner onboard. Shooting down the kamikaze took a giant step toward defeating the Japanese by keeping America’s most proficient battleship in the war.”

David Seagraves is a small business owner and retired financial planner, who became an author when the opportunity to share his father’s story presented itself following the 2009 USS North Carolina reunion. David enjoys movies, reading, travel, and coastal living with his wife Tanja and their dog Belinda near Malibu, California. Seagraves began his college career at Princeton University and graduated from Colorado College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1983. David is originally from Boston, MA.


The John Seagraves Story
May 14, 2012

Debbie Elliott
Talk, Inc.
cell: 910-471-3181

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