Thursday, July 25, 2013

Remembering Carl Brashear January 19, 1931 - July 25, 2006

A little over a decade ago, I watched one of my favorite movies of all time.  It featured actor, Cuba Gooding Jr. playing the part of an African American Navy man by the name of Carl Brashear.  The name of the movie was "Men of Honor" and also featured another favorite actor of mine, Robert De Niro.  It is based on the life story of Carl M. Brashear and the difficulties he faced while proudly serving his country.

Carl Brashear was the first African American to become a U.S. Navy Master Diver.  Brashear not only was a patriot for his country but also broke down many racial barriers during that time.

Born in Tonieville, Kentucky, Carl Brashear was the sixth of eight children and born to sharecroppers.

He joined the Navy in 1948 at the age of 17.  You could call Brashear a true pioneer for several reasons.    As I mentioned above, he was the first black deep sea diver to graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School, the first black Master Diver and the first Navy diver in naval history to be restored to full active duty as an amputee, the result of a leg injury caused during a salvage operation.  He was the first amputee to advance to the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer and the first black man to become a Master Diver in the U.S. Navy that he held for two years (1975-77)

During his life (both personal and military) Brashear faced many challenges.  He faced hostility and racism.  Many threats occurred including the threat of being drowned because of the color of his skin.

On one occasion, Brashear was assigned to escort the presidential ship "Barbara Ann" to Rhode Island where he met President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Eisenhower gave him a small knife that said "To Carl M. Brashear. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957. Many thanks."

"Men of Honor" not only shows the struggles Brashear faced during his dive training but also future difficulties following an explosion that would result in the amputation of his left leg.  He 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."

Brashear retired from the Navy on April 1, 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.  He served as a civilian employee for the government in Norfolk, Virginia until his retirement in 1993.

Following his retirement, Brashear received numerous accolades including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and an exhibit in honor of him in Nauticus, a science and maritime museum called "Dream to Dive: The Life of Master Diver Carl Brashear."

Carl Brashear died on July 25, 2006 from respiratory and heart failure at the age of 75.

Final Honors for Master Chief Carl M. Brashear took place on July 29, 2006 at 1300 in the Little Creek Amphibious Base Chapel in Norfolk, Virginia (funeral program pictured was given to Famous Endings by the Hollomon Brown Funeral Home). It was attended by over 800 family, friends, active and retired military service people in "honor of a man whose boundless determination inspired every walk of life."
During the service, it was said of Brashear "He taught people worldwide that your race, your gender, your religion, none of that makes any difference.  You can achieve your goals, you can hold accountable to your characteristics as a person not by the color of your skin."

Following his funeral service, he was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia.

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