Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month — Mary MeleNaite Tufui Likio McCray, U.S. Navy

On April 29, 2022, Mary MeleNaite Tufui Likio McCray became the first female U.S. Navy officer of Tongan descent. (Tonga is a Polynesian country and archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean.) McCray achieved this naval milestone during a commissioning ceremony in which she transitioned from the enlisted position of Boatswain’s Mate 1st class to the rank of ensign.

McCray, whose parents came to Los Angeles from Tonga during the mid-1980s, was born in Long Beach, California. At the time of her promotion to ensign, she cited the inspiring example of both of her parents. McCray asserted, “Watching my immigrant parents grind every day to provide for us built a sense of hard work and perseverance in me, which I have carried through every challenge and responsibility I have had.” McCray also highlighted specific advice provided by her late father, Alifeleti Likio. She said, “He told me, ‘Are you going to run with what you have or are you going to quit on yourself? You know, if you quit on yourself now, you are always going to quit.’ I have carried that with me everywhere I have gone.”

McCray joined the Navy directly out of high school. Her first tour of duty on a ship was as a boatswain’s mate aboard USS Dewey (DDG-105). The rating of boatswain’s mate dates back to the American Revolutionary War and is now one of the oldest in the U.S. Navy. The wide range of responsibilities for a boatswain’s mate include training sailors in the maintenance of a ship.

In her present role as a boatswain, McCray serves as the warrant officer supervising personnel on the deck of a ship with respect to such key tasks as overall upkeep of the gear on that part of the vessel. A boatswain’s other extensive duties include oversight of the transfer of both personnel and cargo.

As a trailblazing Navy officer, McCray has exhorted other females of Tongan descent to likewise pursue their goals as fully as possible. “Only you can limit yourself, and you are limitless,” McCray said when she was commissioned. “The door is now wide open, and you are looking at me, and I am looking at you and we are both real. We can all make it. Don’t ever entertain negativity and carry grace wherever you go.”

(The above photo of McCray was taken during her 2022 commissioning ceremony.)

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy

For more information on Mary MeleNaite Tufui Likio McCray, please check out

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