Three weeks ago, at the U.S. Navy Memorial Monument in Washington D.C. Bill Cosby was given a singular honor: He was named an honorary Chief Hospital Corpsman.
As someone who spent a total of 31 years in the Navy, I can vouch for the fact that this was a big deal, even for someone who has been honored as often and in as many diverse ways as Mr. Cosby. I first saw the comedian when he was a relative unknown doing his standup routines in nightclubs. I was struck by the fact that his material drew on experiences he had that were shared by his audience rather than on the shock value of strong language and rebellion. One of my favorite memories is his recollection of being placed on the rotating platform in the park and spun till he threw up.
I had been on that spinning platform and spun by my older, malicious sister, may her soul rest in peace.
Through the years, tens of thousands have been entertained by Cosby’s television shows, multiple personal appearances and lately, inspirational emails that may or may not all be directly attributable to him. Fact is certain that he holds high the American opportunity that abounds for those who would improve their life in the United States.
I was unaware of why this message seems to resonate so easily from him. And then, when I read the news article about his honor, it became clearer. “Thank you all”, he said. “(I treasure) the years I spent in the Navy and so many moments remembering that the Navy gave me a wake-up call. The Navy showed me obedience and that’s the thing that pushed me to realize the mistakes I had made in my young life at 19 years-old and that I could do something with my life and be somebody.”
During his four years in the Navy, now Dr. Cosby, served at Quantico, National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Naval Hospital Argentia, Newfoundland, USS Fort Mandan and Philadelphia Naval Hospital. He was discharged in 1960 as a Hospital Corpsman Third Class.
The Chief induction is a ceremony most Naval Officers do not experience. Even those who rise in the enlisted ranks rarely achieve that level before making the transition to officer. I had occasion only once in my career to be invited to an initiation. Earning the “hard hat” that distinguishes the Chief from other Petty Officers is sometimes celebrated a little on the wild and wooly side. Looking at the official Navy photograph of Bill Cosby in his full uniform and hat, I believe his induction was a little more reserved than the one I attended.
Reserved perhaps, but certainly was richly deserved.