In 1998, when then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen delivered the speech at an occasion honoring, among others, Rear Adm. Lillian Fishburne, he quoted retired Air Force Maj. Albert Murray, an acclaimed novelist: "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]."
"Considering the stresses and strains endured by African-Americans in the defense of our country, it's little wonder that we have so many heroes among us," Cohen added.
Fishburne, the first female African-American to be promoted to flag rank in the U.S. Navy, "is a woman whose story helps us to understand the truth that women are an indispensable part of today's military," Cohen said. Fishburne was born near the water at Patuxent River, Md., and into a naval family. Her active-duty father never questioned his daughter's military career ambitions because she was female, and his faith in her paid off. She graduated from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pa., and less than two years later completed Women Officers School training at Newport, R.I. She was commissioned an ensign in 1973.
Fishburne's first assignment was as personnel and legal officer at the Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst, N.J. Her early career included a recruiting tour and charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center in Great Lakes, Ill. She attended the Naval Postgraduate School for two years and then took the position of assistant head, Joint Allied Command and Control Matters Branch. Appointments to positions like executive officer at the Naval Communications Command in Yokosuka, Japan, and special projects officer for the Navy's Command, Control, and Communications Directorate led to her selection for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
After leading the Command and Control Systems Support Division in Washington, D.C., and commanding the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station, Eastern Pacific, in Hawaii, Fishburne was promoted to rear admiral on Feb. 1, 1998. Currently, she serves as director of the Information Transfer Division for the Space, Information Warfare, Command and Control Directorate, Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C.