Chancellor Alphonso “Pete” Tzomes was born in 1944 and grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was inspired to join the Navy in junior high school following a visit by a Navy midshipman. Though his advisor told him that African Americans could not go to the Naval Academy, Tzomes was determined that he wanted to join the Navy. After graduating high school, he applied and was selected to join the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1963.
Tzomes graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967. From there, he pursued a career as a Marine pilot but was recommended for infantry because of his height. He chose to apply for the Navy’s nuclear power program instead and became the first African American to be accepted, and then subsequently trained in the program.
His first assignment was in 1969 aboard USS Will Rogers, a ballistic missile submarine which was part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during the Vietnam War. He was soon reassigned to USS Pintado, an attack submarine. In 1973, he became an engineer officer aboard USS Drum, a submarine in the Western Pacific. From 1979 to 1982, Tzomes served as executive officer aboard USS Cavalla, another Pacific Fleet attack submarine.
In 1983, Tzomes became the commander of USS Houston, making him the first African American to command a nuclear submarine. He was the first of seven African Americans to do so in the first century of the submarine force’s existence. The group is now deemed the “Centennial Seven” for their pioneering work.
In 1986, Tzomes was promoted to captain and reassigned as the Force Operations Officer of the U.S. Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He served there until 1988, when he was assigned to Washington, D.C., as a naval advisor and director of Equal Opportunity. In 1990, he became the commanding officer for recruiting at Naval Station Great Lakes. His final assignment was at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina as the assistant chief of staff for Operations and Inspector General.
Tzomes retired from the Navy in 1994 with the rank of captain. During his service, he received a Legion of Merit with two Gold Stars, a Meritorious Service Medal and a Navy Commendation Medal.
After retirement, Tzomes worked as a manager for Exelon Corporation, an energy company in the Quad Cities area of Illinois until 2012. He died in 2019.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Nolan Lounsbery
Editors: Theresa Lyon, Julia Pack
Researchers: Carl Wesseln, Kennedy Hertz
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley