Clemon H. Terrell enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1950 as a steward. He would make the officers' beds and shine their shoes, among other duties. Due to segregation, there were limited opportunities for advancement. This week, 34 years following his retirement from the service, Terrell was promoted to honorary Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer.
"I was ecstatic. Being promoted to Chief Petty Officer is a prestigious promotion," he said, adding that the the Chief Petty Officer has the respect of everyone "from the Admiral on down."
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell called the promotion ceremony a "righteous event."
"The job that Chief Terrell performed did not offer a lot of opportunities for advancement because we weren't inclusive as a service or as a nation as we should have been," said Cantrell, who is the Coast Guard's senior most enlisted person. "We have the ability now to make honorary chiefs of people who have the qualities of a Chief; who demonstrated his love of country and service, and a commitment to our core values, in spite of difficult social issues at the time."
Clemon H. Terrell is the son of a sharecropper.
He enlisted in the Coast Guard shortly after high school and spent 14 years at sea, all of it in a segregated environment.
The Coast Guard reports that Terrell reached the rank of Petty Officer 1st Class but was never promoted beyond that.
Still, Terrell is proud of his association with the Coast Guard.
"This is one of the biggest events of my life," said Terrell.
Find out more about the Coast Guard's Honorary Chief Designation program here.