The Naval History and Heritage Command – the U.S. Navy’s official historical arm – has a loving biography – hagiographic even — of Bill Cosby on its website. The article highlights his upbringing, stating that Cosby “had a naturally good image of himself, one that had been carefully instilled by his mother, Anna Pearl Cosby, a domestic worker who read Mark Twain and the Bible to her three sons at night.”
The article also highlights Cosby’s Navy career:
At the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, his high IQ scores earned him training as a physical therapist, followed by assignment to the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Maryland. There he worked as a corpsman, helping to rehabilitate mostly Korean War veterans, a duty that he liked and at which he excelled. He was also sent briefly on board ship, from Newfoundland to Guantanamo Bay. Finally he was assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital.
With the track team, he traveled around the country and improved his skills, getting his time in the hundred-yard dash down to 10.2 seconds; clearing six feet, five inches in the high jump; and reaching forty-six feet, eight inches in the hop-step jump. He also had a more-than-passing interest in three other sports (football, basketball, and baseball), playing with the Quantico Marine football team in 1956 and playing guard and forward on the National Naval Medical Center varsity basketball team. In 1954 he had tried out for the Baltimore Orioles. During his Navy years, the popular, jocular Cosby made a lot of friends, meeting people who were working hard to better their prospects through the courses offered in the service. Realizing that many of them were applying themselves more than he had ever done–it had never taken much effort for him to do minimally well, thanks to his mental prowess–Cosby came to appreciate the gift he had been born with and resolved to put it to work. He began by earning his high-school diploma while still in the Navy.
Cosby left the Navy with an honorable discharge in 1960, and the rest is wholesome humor history – until a few weeks ago when Cosby posted a request to his Facebook followers to comment on their favorite expressions of his. One poster wrote “Jello Pudding and rape,” and that went viral and caused upwards of 16 sexual harassment and assault allegations to resurface against the comedian. As a result of these allegations venues have cancelled dates on Cosby’s current tour and networks have killed projects or stopped airing episodes of “The Cosby Show.” Seems the court of public opinion has ruled on Mr. Cosby in a hurry and organizations that care at all about the fair treatment of women are unflinchingly cutting any ties to him.
Which brings the topic back to the U.S. Navy. On February 17, 2011 then Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus made Cosby an honorary chief petty officer in a ceremony held at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center.
“Bill Cosby is not just a comedian and an actor, although he’s pretty good at both, he’s also been a tireless advocate for social responsibility and education – and a constant friend to the Navy,” Mabus said during the ceremony.
And it gets worse (or better depending on your appetite for these sort of scandals). In 2010 the U.S. Navy Memorial Association gave Cosby their vaunted Lone Sailor Award.
So now what? WATM asked the Navy what action the sea service intended to take as a result of the growing number of women coming out with rape charges against Cosby. The public affairs duty officer who answered had no statement, and at press time officials were still researching the matter.
With the military’s crackdown on sexual harassment as a result of the pressure applied by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and others last year, will the Navy allow Cosby to retain his honorary chief status? And in an ever-competitive fundraising and membership environment, will the Navy Memorial Association yank his Lone Sailor Award?
UPDATE (Dec. 4, 2014, 2:30 PM EST): The U.S. Navy has announced that they have revoked Bill Cosby’s honorary chief petty officer status. No word yet from the Navy Memorial Association on the Lone Sailor Award.