Born into a naval family in Patuxent River, Maryland, Lillian Elaine Fishburne arrived on March 25, 1949. She grew up in Rockville, Maryland and went on to become America’s first black female Navy Flag Officer. Her story is one which helps to illustrate the invaluable service women of all races offer to the US military.
At the time of her birth, Fishburne’s father was active-duty Navy. He never questioned his daughter’s desire to pursue a career in the military and his faith in her was well placed. After graduating from Richard Montgomery High School, Lillian received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania. She then completed Officers School in Newport, Rhode Island and was commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy in 1973.
Ensign Fishburne’s first assignment was to the Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey as Personnel and Legal Officer. She was transferred to Miami, Florida in 1974 and served as a recruiter for the Officer Programs until November 1977. She then transferred to the Naval Telecommunications Center in Great Lakes, Illinois.
Between 1980 and 1982, Fishburne earned two master’s degrees – Master of Arts in Management from Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri in 1980 and Master of Science in Telecommunications Systems Management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1982. She then served two years as Command Control Communications Director for the Chief of Naval Operations.
During the 1990s, Fishburne served in Japan, Washington, D.C., and Key West, Florida. In December 1994, she was appointed to the Pentagon as Chief of the Command and Control Systems Support Division for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. From 1995 to 1998, she commanded the Naval Computer & Telecommunications Area Master Station located in Wahiawa, Hawaii.
Lillian Fishburne attained the rank of Rear Admiral on February 1, 1998. She served as Director of the Information Transfer Division for the Space Information Warfare for the chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. for three years, then retired in February 2001. Her collection of decorations include:Defense Superior Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (2), Navy Achievement Medal and Meritorious Service Medal (2).
Admiral Fishburne credits her military success to the fact she remained focused in her determination to do every job assigned to her well and never asked more from anyone else than she was willing to do.
“Every promotion or job assignment I get makes me more confident and draws upon my strengths and wisdom to do it correctly.” Admiral Lillian Fishburne.
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‘Heroism . . . is measured in terms of the stress and strain it can endure, and the magnitude and complexity of the obstacles that it overcomes . . . which bring out the best in [potential heroes].’ Air Force Major Albert Murray
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