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Carl Maxie Brashear (January 19, 1931 – July 25, 2006) was a United States Navy sailor. He was the first African American to become a U.S. Navy Master Diver, rising to the position in 1970 despite also having an amputated left leg.
Early life and education
Brashear was born on January 19, 1931, in Tonieville, Kentucky, the sixth of eight children to sharecroppers McDonald and Gonzella Brashear. In 1935, the family settled on a farm in Sonora, Kentucky. Brashear attended Sonora Grade School from 1937 to 1946.
Brashear enlisted in the U.S. Navy on February 25, 1948, shortly after the Navy had been desegregated by U.S. President Harry S. Truman. He graduated from the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School in 1954, becoming the first African-American to attend and graduate from the Diving & Salvage School and the first African-American U.S. Navy Diver.
While attending diving school in Bayonne, New Jersey, Brashear faced hostility and racism. He found notes on his bunk saying, "We're going to drown you today, nigger!" and "We don't want any nigger divers." Brashear received encouragement to finish from First Class Boatswain's Mate Rutherford, and graduated 16 out of 17.
Brashear first did work as a diver retrieving approximately 16,000 rounds of ammunition that fell off a barge which had broken in half and sunk to the bottom. On his first tour of shore duty in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, his duties included the salvaging of airplanes (including one Blue Angel) and recovering multiple dead bodies.
Brashear was assigned to escort the presidential ship the Barbara Ann to Rhode Island. He met President Eisenhower and received a small knife that said, "To Carl M. Brashear. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957. Many, many thanks." After making chief in 1959 he stayed at Guam for three years doing mostly demolition dives.
Leg amputation and recovery
In January 1966, in an accident now known as the Palomares incident, a B28 nuclear bomb was lost off the coast of Palomares, Spain after two United States Air Force aircraft of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), a B-52G Stratofortress bomber and a KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft collided during aerial refueling. Brashear was serving aboard USS Hoist (ARS-40) when it was dispatched to find and recover the missing bomb for the Air Force. The warhead was found after two and a half months of searching. For his service in helping to retrieve the bomb, Brashear was later awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal – the highest Navy award for non-combat heroism.
During the bomb recovery operations on March 23, 1966, a line used for towing broke loose, causing a pipe to strike Brashear's left leg below the knee, nearly shearing it off. He was evacuated to Torrejon Air Base in Spain, then to the USAF Hospital at Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany; and finally to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. Beset with persistent infection and necrosis, his lower left leg was eventually amputated.
Brashear remained at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Portsmouth from May 1966 until March 1967 recovering and rehabilitating from the amputation. From March 1967 to March 1968, Brashear was assigned to the Harbor Clearance Unit Two, Diving School, preparing for return to full active duty and diving. In April 1968, after a long struggle, Brashear was the first amputee diver to be (re)certified as a U.S. Navy diver. In 1970, he became the first African-American U.S. Navy Master Diver, and served ten more years beyond that, achieving the rating of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate in 1971. Brashear was motivated by his beliefs that "It's not a sin to get knocked down; it's a sin to stay down" and "I ain't going to let nobody steal my dream".
BMCM (MDV) Brashear retired from the U.S. Navy on April 1, 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9) and Master Diver. He then served as a civilian employee for the government at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia and retired in 1993 with the grade of GS-11.
Brashear married and divorced three times: Junetta Wilcoxson (1952–1978), Hattie R. Elam (1980–1983), and Jeanette A. Brundage (1985–1987). He had four children: Shazanta (1955–1996), DaWayne, Phillip, and Patrick. Brashear's grand-nephew is professional ice hockey player Donald Brashear.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. played the role of Brashear in Men of Honor, a movie inspired by the life of Carl Brashear.
Carl Brashear Foundation
After his death, his sons DaWayne and Phillip Brashear started the Carl Brashear Foundation in his honor.
Decorations and medals
|Navy and Marine Corps Medal||Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal|
|Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal||Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation||Navy Unit Commendation|
|Navy Good Conduct Medal (8 awards)||China Service Medal||Navy Occupation Service Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal with 1 service star||Korean Service Medal|
|Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service||United Nations Service Medal||Korean War Service Medal|
Brashear was honored with the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in October 2000 for 42 years of combined military and federal civilian service. The award was presented by Secretary of Defense William Cohen.
On October 24, 2007, the Newport News Fire Department dedicated a 33-foot (10 m) high-speed fireboat named Carl Brashear to be used by their Dive and Marine Incident Response Teams.
The Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE-7) was christened in his honor in San Diego, California on September 18, 2008.General Dynamics delivered the completed ship to the Navy on March 4, 2009.
On February 21, 2009, Nauticus, a science and maritime museum in downtown Norfolk, Virginia, opened a new exhibit called "Dream to Dive: The Life of Master Diver Carl Brashear". It is the first full-scale museum exhibit dedicated to Brashear.