Heroic "CGO" Dies

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I went to the funeral of Roger "Bill" Terry. I'd met him a few times and he was always friendly and never seemed to have left his smile at home. Bill Terry was a Tuskegee Airman. It was only at his funeral that it dawned on me that when we think of the Tuskegee Airmen we think of them as old men, men the age of our grandparents. But many of these heroic men, who are now in their late 80s and early nineties, were Company Grade Officers (CGOs), captains and lieutenants, when they made history. The incredible accomplishments and heroic acts, that they are recently being honored for, were things they did as CGOs. They were young officers full of enthusiasm, vitality and dreams just like the CGOs of today.

Second Lieutenant Bill Terry was a young pilot. He was at a training base preparing to enter combat in WWII. He was a UCLA graduate. He was a gifted athlete, bright, talented and handsome. He "had it going on". His college roommate was Jackie Robinson, who in addition to being an incredible athlete/baseball player, first made history by breaking baseball's race barrier. Ironically, Bill Terry would make history in similar fashion. 2Lt Terry was among 162 Army Air Corps officers who attempted to enter a whites-only Officers Club. Of the 162 officers, 104 were arrested, 3 were put up for court-martial, and 2Lt Terry was the only who was convicted for trumped up charges that would not be cleared for over five decades. Bill Terry was a CGO who decided to do something heroic. I'm sure at the time he didn't think "let me go do something heroic today". He took a stand based on his values of integrity and fairness, fully realizing that the action he took could result in prison, court-martial and possibly more.

At Bill Terry's funeral, Oliver Goodall, one of his buddies, his wingman if you will, presented the flag to Bill's wife. These guys were LTs together. They were arrested together, made history together and the bond that united them as CGOs in the 1940s...was still strong in 2009. Wow.

During the funeral I had the distinct pleasure of passing the flag to "Lt" Oliver Goodall. I was in uniform and I was the ranking active duty officer at the service. It felt silly even to say I was the ranking anything with so many of these heroes present. These men were still full of pride and vitality even well into their 80s and 90s. I had come to know Mr. Goodall over the years because of my involvement with the Tuskegee Airmen and my involvement in the community. When I watched him pass that flag to Bill Terry's spouse and salute, it hit me again that this hero, this man, was once a lieutenant. He and his buddy, his fellow LT made a choice that helped change the history of the Air Force we currently serve in. Was there a cost? You bet you. Every time I see Mr. Goodall, former Lt Goodall, he asks me about help getting onto the base for official functions he's invited to. Because of his arrest he was never able to have a full career. You couldn't meet a prouder former Air Force (Army Air Corps) officer. He's got so many pins and buttons on his coat, so much interest in flying--even today. But the choice he made that put him in the history books and put minority officers like myself into an integrated Air Force, cost him an Air Force career.

What about you? Can you be heroic as a CGO? Sure the circumstances of today are different than in the 1940s but there are opportunities everyday to make heroic choices in support of the Air Force's core values. Everyday in our professional and personal lives we are presented with opportunities to live the values of "Integrity First", "Service Before Self" and "Excellence In All We Do". In addition, the communities surrounding your Air Force base need Air Force officers, CGOs, just like you. As CGOs you are role models to the generation behind you. You are close enough in age for the young men and women, boys and girls behind you to connect with and emulate. The local community needs your influence--especially minority officers. There is a widening gap in education and social status in African American and Hispanic communities. The community has a great need for role models like you. Getting involved won't be easy especially with the OPSTEMPO and deployment demands of today's Air Force. Additionally, as CGOs many of you are newly married and raising your own families, building your own careers, etc. But to be "heroic" today, we must make a sacrifice--just like "Bill Terry" did when he put the needs of the Air Force, the needs of the community and his personal commitment to enduring values above his own career.

The legendary Tuskegee Airmen, heroes of the "greatest American generation", made heroic choices when they were CGOs. Make a decision today to be heroic, to give back, to put Service and the community before yourself; to make the community around your Air Force base a little better than you found it. Who knows, the lives you impact may result in something historic.