Burlington, NC man promoted to honorary Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer 34 years after retirement

5th Coast Guard District News
BURLINGTON, NC — A Burlington native was promoted Tuesday to honorary Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer during a ceremony in Burlington 34 years following his retirement from the service.

Clemon H. Terrell enlisted in 1950 as a steward, the only job available to African-Americans at the time in the Coast Guard, which provided limited promotion opportunities.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell read Terrell’s certificate of appointment, calling the promotion ceremony a righteous event.

Retired Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Clemon Terrell receives his anchors from Master Chief Petty Officer Clinton Self during a ceremony promoting Terrell to honorary Chief Petty Officer, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Burlington, N.C. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell reads the promotion certificate for Terrell, a Burlington native, who served from 1950 to 1970 as a steward, the only job available to African-Americans in the Coast Guard, which limited his advancement opportunities. (Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class John D. Miller)

Retired Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Clemon Terrell receives his anchors from Master Chief Petty Officer Clinton Self during a ceremony promoting Terrell to honorary Chief Petty Officer, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell reads the promotion certificate for Terrell, served from 1950 to 1970 as a steward, the only job available to African-Americans in the Coast Guard, which limited his advancement opportunities. (Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class John D. Miller)

“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.”

The son of a sharecropper, Terrell enlisted in the Coast Guard shortly after he graduated from Pleasant Grove High School. Along with other Coast Guard stewards, his recruit training included learning how to wait on officer’s tables, make their beds, clean their rooms and shine their shoes.

Following an initial assignment at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, Terrell was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Absecon for the first of his 14 years of sea time – all of it in a segregated environment.

“Everywhere I went, they put all the blacks together,” Terrell told a Coast Guard historian earlier this year. “If I went aboard ship, they would have all the black stewards together. We had our own space and bath, our own area.”

The nature of the job meant that only a few, if any, stewards could or would be promoted to Chief Petty Officer. Terrell reached the rank of Petty Officer 1st Class but was never promoted beyond that.

Nevertheless, Terrell remembered his time in the service fondly at Tuesday’s ceremony: “The Coast Guard was the best years in my life, and the people I met were the best friends that I have ever met. I would have stayed in longer, but I was commuting from where my family lived in Burlington to my duty station in Baltimore. My son was growing up and I wanted to spend time with him.”

Terrell completed his career in the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore. Following retirement, he pursued a civilian career in food management, including as a chef and food manager at Elon University.

Click the photo for more from the ceremony.

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2 Comments

  1. Steve Matadobra says:

    Nicely Done!……

  2. Joan Johnson says:

    As a retired Master Chief Petty Officer, I welcome you to the “Mess”. Congratulations for the well deserved promotion.