David K. Carlisle

NO. 17405  •  5 February 1927 - 15 January 2000

Died 15 January 2000 in Los Angeles, CA.
Cremated & inurned in Los Angeles National Veterans Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA


AS HIS CLASSMATE, Al Fern, said at the funeral, "Dave Carlisle was ahead of his time." It is true. David Kay Carlisle was born in 1927 and attended the Academy during 1946-50, a time when the Academy was not yet ready for a bright, brash African-American. Dave grew up in west Los Angeles, in an accomplished middle class family, and did not know he was supposed to be humble. He was academically gifted and a leader, even as a young man. After a year at the California Institute of Technology, Dave entered West Point and met the realities of the Army of that day.

It will be hard for younger readers to appreciate that the Army, after WWII, was as biased as the society from whence it sprang. During his time at West Point, Dave and the other African - American cadet in the Class of'50, Bob Green, were segregated and made to room together apart from their companies. Despite that treatment, Dave succeeded. He won the acceptance, respect, and affection of his companymates and, despite a few exceptions, the Corps. When Dave graduated from the Academy, he was only the 14th African - American to do so, though none of us knew that, or cared, at the time. Cadet gray turned out to be more important to us than either black or white.

Members of the Class of '50 graduated to find that the Korean War broke out while we were on graduation leave. He was assigned to the 77th Engineer Combat Company, an all African-American unit supporting the 24th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division. He served as platoon leader, company executive officer, and, finally, company commander. In September 1951, the Army desegregated its all African-American units in Eighth Army. Dave was in command when the 77th Engineer Combat Company, the Army's last segregated combat unit, was disestablished.

For Dave, like many of the rest of our class, the Korean War was a defining moment. It was from that experience that he found later in life his cause - recognition of the worth and contributions of the African-American soldiers of that war.

After the Korean War, Dave earned a master's of science in civil engineering at MIT and served in Engineer assignments in the U.S. and Germany. While Dave was in charge of the Corps of Engineers Area Office at Loring AFB in Maine, his wife Alma, an architect and engineer, also worked for the Corps. When Dave went to Germany to serve in an Engineer construction battalion, he ran into trouble. His health was poor at the time, but he got no sympathy from his superiors and, reluctantly, left the Army in 1958.

Dave went on, though. He became an assistant to the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 1964, he became vice president of Central State University, Wilberforce, OH. In 1968, he became a special consultant on educational technology to the U.S. Department of Labor, NASA, and the White House staffs of Presidents Johnson and Nixon. During 1969-70, Dave was a division manager for Volt Information Systems and, during 1970-73, was CEO of Innovative Sciences.

In 1974, Dave was forced to retire from business due to his poor health. His kidneys failed, and he was dependent on frequent dialysis sessions, restricting his body, but not his spirit. He conducted an incessant campaign to persuade the Army to revise its official history of the Korean War that depicted the African-American troops as cowards who broke and ran at any noise. As a result of his frequent letters and phone calls, in 1996 the Army published a new history of the 24th Infantry Regiment, Black Soldier, White Army. While the new history went a long way to correct the errors of the original official history, it did not satisfy Dave. He insisted, and others agreed, that the African-American soldiers fought as well as the white soldiers. Both responded positively to good leadership. Some "bugged out," but most fought with courage and heroism throughout the war.

Dave also was a family man. His wife Alma continued her career and became Director of the Historic and Cultural Resources Survey of the City of Los Angeles. They raised three attractive and accomplished children with doctorates - a physician, a lawyer, and a computer scientist. Dave was an influential member of his family and his neighborhood and was liked and respected by all. He was a good friend, to all who knew him, throughout his life.

Despite the unfairness of his treatment, Dave remained an idealist. He persisted in his duty until the day he died. He was an honorable man who never gave up his search for truth, nor shirked from an unpopular cause. He served his country well in war and in peace. He epitomizes the spirit of West Point that inspires us to choose the harder right.