First African-American AF Academy Graduate Honored

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Charles V. Bush, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy's Class of 1963 and a Vietnam veteran, was laid to rest during a memorial service at the Academy March 16.   Bush, also known as "BG-1" for being the Academy's first black graduate, died Nov. 5, 2012, at his home in Lolo, Mont.   Friends and family members, including Board of Visitors members Fletcher Wiley and Alfredo Sandoval, took time to remember Bush's legacy and his accomplishments, both personal and professional.   "What a glorious day it is to evoke and share fond memories of a fallen warrior, a pioneer, a relentless advocate and a loving and gentle soul who has gone to his just reward," said Wiley, who became the Academy's fifth African-American graduate in 1965. "I sense that he is still with us in spirit, and he is grateful to you all for being a part of this celebration."   Wiley introduced himself to the audience as "a friend and admirer of Chuck Bush, a golden boy from the Class of 1963." Lightening the tone of his eulogy, he added, "I know it's hard for you to imagine this, but like Chuck, I used to be pretty."  

Wiley, who shared a dormitory with Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Lance Sijan, compared Bush to Sijan, saying the two had a similar warrior spirit.   "Unlike Lance, who never reached his 30s, Chuck performed his feats over a productive lifetime of seven decades," Wiley said. "I'm certain that, like Lance, the memory and legacy of Chuck's great deliverance of his last full measure will continue to live on."   Bush's military career began in June 1959 as the first African-American from the state of Indiana to attend the Academy.   "Charles V. Bush walked up the 'Bring Me Men' ramp (more than) a half century ago, and America took notice," Sandoval said. "His fight for equality sounded the bell of freedom (and) elevated the moral consciousness of this nation. His courage, integrity and determination symbolize the best traditions of this institution."   As an upperclassman, Bush held fellow African-Americans to a high standard, Wiley said.   "We had six African-Americans in our 1965 class, and we thought -- indeed, we were hoping -- that Chuck would kindly take us under his wing and mentor us. We wanted him to cut us some slack," Wiley said. "However, all of my classmates will tell you that Chuck was a demanding upperclassman, especially to the brothers.   "After he graduated, he shared with me his rationale: he wanted us brothers to measure up, and he thought that measure could best be achieved by him not coddling us or appearing to coddle us," Wiley added. "One thing I do know is that whenever Cadet Bush came around, I tried extra hard to be squared away because I didn't want to embarrass either of us."   Bush's military career included a tour in Vietnam, where he controlled six intelligence teams operating from a number of sites, including Saigon, Bien Hoa, Nha Thang, Pleiku, Da Nang and Can Tho, according to an Academy news release. The teams were involved with significant intelligence operations, notably the attack on Tan Son Nhut Air Base during the 1968 Tet Offensive and the defense of Marines and South Vietnamese forces at the Battle of Khe Sanh. He also learned Vietnamese during his tour, Sandoval said.   Bush left the Air Force in 1970 to attend Harvard Business School, later becoming the first Harvard Business School Black Alumni Association member, Sandoval said. The Falcon Foundation trustee served in executive roles at several companies and guest lectured for the Academy's management department.

Bush also served as a diversity consultant for the Academy and the Air Force. This, Wiley said, was his true passion.   "Chuck gave generously of his time, his energy, his resources and his reputation to help expand and make relevant the 'long black and blue line,' some of the examples you see here today," Wiley said. "Chuck labored relentlessly to expand and consolidate the diversity beachhead that the civilian and military societies had established ... and Chuck incessantly wrote scholarly papers, lectured, consulted, constantly emailed and interacted with a broad range of leaders in his unyielding quest.   "He was not intimidated by pomp, circumstance or status, and he was just as comfortable (cornering) and admonishing a secretary of defense or a chief of staff of the Air Force as he was interacting with all of us," Wiley continued. "He spoke truth to power, even when the message was falling, he felt, on insensitive, overwrought or deaf ears."   Bush, having stormed the beaches of equal rights, was determined to make sure the next generation had a safe landing zone, Wiley said.   Sandoval said future graduates must remember the strides Bush made and keep faith with his passion.   "I can still hear (Bush) say, 'My shoulders are broad. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,'" Sandoval said, quoting from the Bible's 2 Timothy 4:7. "Now it is we who must keep the faith: the faith in a tomorrow where all men and women have equal opportunity. Today, as we mourn his passing ... still know that this nation has much work to do to fully live up to its ideals of equality and justice for all. As BG-1 was fond of saying, 'One way or another, we will get there.'"   The Academy honored Bush with a 21-gun salute, a flag-folding ceremony by the Academy Honor Guard and a flag presentation to his wife, Tina, by Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould.

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