Former HM3 Bill Cosby reflects on how Navy service shaped his career

Cosby Mabus

Honorary Chief Hospital Corpsman Bill Cosby, center, stands with then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick West and Navy Secretary (and fellow Hollywood mogul) Ray Mabus during his honorary pinning ceremony in February 2011. (Navy photo by MC2 Jason M. Graham)

Grandparents may remember Bill Cosby as the racial-barrier-breaking co-star of the ’60s action series “I Spy,” or as a voice coming from a record player, talking about his brother, Russell, or re-enacting one of history’s first major naval construction requests.

For parents, he’s likely part television icon, part advice-giver, part guy with the crazy marker.

For kids, he’s mostly the stuff of legend and re-runs. But at 75, he’s still touring, and he still thanks his time in the Navy for helping shape his success.

Cosby enlisted in 1956 and served as a hospital corpsman until 1961, leaving as an HM3. His service is a recurring theme in this must-read profile by John Liberty at, written in advance of a Cosby concert in Kalamazoo, Mich., this weekend. The walk-off quote from Cosby, on how the Navy taught him to approach his half-century-long entertainment career: “I have learned if you’re going to make this bed, you’re going to make it so you can bounce the quarter off of it. If you’re going to sweep, mop, dry, you’re going to make it as perfect as you can — to be proud of it.”

Cosby earned the Lone Sailor Award in 2010 and was named an honorary chief in 2011.

And while Navy service may have shaped his career, the end of Navy service played no small role. From Navy Times’ 2010 article, linked above:

Cosby was offered $200 to re-enlist for another four years, he said, and he went to a detailer to accept the offer. But the man talked him out of it.

“Divine intervention, I think it might have been,” Cosby said. “With [a second four-year enlistment]you don’t get a Bill Cosby. Temple University? Gone. Instead, now, I’m retired, working at the post office.”


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  1. Had no idea about HM3 Cosby! My favorite routine has always been his “200MPH” monologue, about his replacing his Ferrari with a Shelby Cobra.

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