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Mar 16, 2013 11:57 PM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

Funeral held for first African-American Air Force Academy graduate

A funeral service for the first African-American graduate of the Air Force Academy was held on Saturday.

Charles V. Bush died at age 72 of cancer in Montana in November. In 1963 he became the first African-American to graduate from the academy, just one of many impressive accomplishments throughout his life.

"Lots of fun stories about this gentleman, we're just honored to be able to send him out in style," explained Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael Gould. "It's great to have his family here and so many friends and others in the academy."

Bush was born in the south and grew up in Washington D.C. where his father was an administrator at Howard University. He served as the first African-American page to the Supreme Court before reporting to the Air Force Academy as a cadet in 1959.

There were tears shed at Bush's funeral at the Memorial Pavilion, but also a lot of laughter as his former classmates shared their memories. Being one of the first African-American cadets at the academy he was well known and respected by other African-American cadets.

"It was a great joy to meet him in the flesh so to speak even though he was in my face chewing me out," described Fletcher "Flash" Wiley, who graduated from the academy in 1965. "His way of showing us the way was to be tougher on us than anybody else...it forced us to live up to his image of what excellence should be."

After his graduation Bush attended Air Intelligence Officers School and served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam beginning in 1968. While in Vietnam he was responsible for the operations and deployment of intelligence teams who were involved in gathering information during the Tet Offensive.

Bush resigned his commission in 1970 and enrolled in Harvard Business School and later became a business leader in several corporations including Merrill Lynch-White Weld Capital Group. But, throughout his professional life, friends and family said he was always a passionate advocate for diversity in the military. He served as a diversity consultant for the Air Force and the Air Force Academy.

"He remembered that it wasn't just about him," Fletcher Wiley explained. "He opened the doors so that people could come behind him and stand on his shoulders and achieve."

Bush is survived by his wife of 48-years Bettina and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Chuck Bush Memorial Fund has been established to carry on Bush's legacy of pushing for diversity. Donations can be made to the Chuck Bush Memorial Fund, c/o USAFA Association of Graduates, United States Air Force Academy, 3116 Academy Drive, USAFA, CO 80840.

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