Groundbreaking graduate mourned at Air Force Academy
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
In 1963, Charles Bush became BG-1.
But the first “black graduate” — BG-1 — of the United States Air Force Academy, Chuck Bush went on to become many more things.
To his friend Fletcher “Flash” Wiley, USAFA ‘65, Chuck was a family man, a role model, and a “diversity admiral.”
Bush was a Vietnam veteran who spoke Vietnamese and a little Russian, who was awarded a Bronze Star and studied at Georgetown and Harvard universities. Like in the lyrics to one of his favorite songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Bush walked down many roads on his way to manhood.
Bush, 72, died of cancer last fall. BG-1 came home to the academy Saturday for burial.
“Our dad was just our dad,” said his daughter, Bettina, at her father’s memorial service at the academy’s cemetery on Saturday. “He was all these great things, but he was also our dad.”
His wife Tina, two daughters, son and many grandchildren — brought his cremated remains to be buried at the academy. Although the academy played a crucial role in the life of the man who went on to champion diversity in the military, it was not where he got his start.
Born in 1939, Bush’s father worked in the Howard University administration, allowing his son to grow up in the center of African-American intellectual culture at the time, Wiley said.
Long before Wiley met Bush, he saw his name in Ebony magazine, when Bush became the first African-American page to Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Bush spent two years at Howard while he waited for acceptance at the academy. When Bush was admitted to the cadet wing, it inspired Wiley to follow.
“We had six African-Americans in the class of 1965,” Wiley told mourners at the service. “We were hoping that Chuck would mentor us. We wanted him to cut us some slack.”
They got no such luck.
“He was a demanding upperclassmen, especially to us brothers,” Wiley joked.
Much like Bush’s demeanor — which friends said was both wise and teasing — his funeral was jovial and inspirational.
Wiley had Bush’s family and friends in stitches as he joked about Bush’s 48 year romance with his wife, Tina, and Bush’s epic, passionate emails he would send after the family moved from southern California to Montana to be closer to grandchildren.
“I’m not here to recite Chuck’s formidable obituary,” Wiley said. “If you want the facts about the full life of this fascinating man, go home.”
Instead, Wiley had a family member pass him a bottle of liquor so he could toast his friend. He raised the bottle to his lips and took a swig.
“I drink your soul to the ages,” he said.