Commentary: Remembering Herb Gavin and Prince Ahmed

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, August 14, 2009
In the 1950s, my dad, a civilian with the Air Force, traveled the world with Herb Gavin distributing war supplies to America's cold war allies. They had just completed a successful trip and were in Colorado, headed home, when Gavin suggested they go to a bar to celebrate. But the bar hostess refused to seat them. When Gavin tried to push past her, Dad restrained him. Then Gavin understood. This was pre-Civil Rights Act America, and my dad was black.

Dad was used to discrimination, but the next day Gavin was still fuming. He told Dad to put on the lambs wool fez he’d picked up in Pakistan, and headed for the hotel bar. Gavin’s plan: Dad would pose as Prince Ahmed, the son of an Arab sheik, and Colonel Gavin would be his escort officer. Far from being turned away, they were plied with free drinks as Gavin regaled the bar patrons with stories of the Prince’s vast oil wealth. Dad mostly nodded, muttering a few faux-French phases.
When told a photographer from the Denver Post was coming to take pictures, they made a quick exit.

A combat pilot, Gavin earned an armful of medals during his career. No medals were given for what he did in Denver, but that day he became a hero to our family, forever.

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.