By Navy Chief Petty Officer Sonya Ansarov, Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
WASHINGTON - Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West recognized actor, comedian and former sailor Bill Cosby as an honorary chief petty officer in a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center on February 17, 2011 .
(In the above Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason M. Graham, Cosby stands between West and Mabus at the ceremony).
"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. "Last year was the highest compliment I've ever received –- being made an honorary chief petty officer, and now Dr. Cosby –- you're about to get the same honor."
Cosby holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Massachusetts.
Mabus and West placed chief petty officer anchors on Cosby in front of a huge gathering of chief petty officers and other sailors. West helped Cosby don a chief hospital corpsman's service dress blue jacket, and Mabus presented Cosby with the accompanying visored hat.
"I will tell to you like I tell all of our new chiefs ... when I pin these anchors on you, your job isn't over and your journey is just beginning," West said to Cosby. "There is no greater honor than having earned the title "Chief" -- and the responsibility to our sailors and our Navy that comes with it -- and we will expect more of you."
Cosby expressed his gratitude for the honor and for the lessons he learned in his Navy service.
"[Over] 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 myself and become somebody."
Cosby began his relationship with the Navy in 1956, when he joined as a hospital corpsman and attended recruit training at Naval Training Center Bainbridge, Md.
During his four-year tour, Cosby was stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; Naval Hospital Argentia, Newfoundland; aboard USS Fort Mandan; and Philadelphia Naval Hospital.
At Quantico and Bethesda, Cosby worked in physical therapy, helping to rehabilitate Korean War veterans, a duty he said he liked and excelled at. He was also an athlete for the Navy, playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track and field.
Cosby said the Navy transformed him from an aimless, uneducated kid into a man with drive, discipline and self-respect.
He was honorably discharged in 1960 as a petty officer 3rd class. His awards included Navy Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Service Medal. He also received the 2010 Lone Sailor Award from the U.S. Navy Memorial.