A Man of Honor

by Steve on July 26, 2006

Retired Master Diver of the US Navy Carl Brashear passed away on July 25th. He endured many hardships and setbacks during his career and yet his accomplishments were extraordinary. He joined the Navy in 1948, a time when racism was very prevalent within the armed forces. He became the first black deep sea diver and the first black master diver. After losing a leg in an accident, he went on to become the first amputee of any race to be restored to full active duty. He continued on active duty retiring as a master chief petty officer. He also served as the Master Diver of the U.S. Navy, another first for a black man. His accomplishments were portrayed by the actor Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie “Men of Honor.”

The CNO issued the following statement honoring Master Chief Brashear:

WASHINGTON (NNS) — Every Sailor in our Navy joins me today in mourning the death of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate (Master Diver) Carl M. Brashear, as true an American hero as ever lived. We extend to his family our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies.

It would be easy in remembering his incredible life to focus on one aspect or another – his humble, yet proud, beginnings in rural Kentucky; the discrimination he suffered at the hands of racist superiors and colleagues; the list of all the “firsts” he accomplished in the dangerous world of Navy diving; the raw, physical courage he exhibited in overcoming what would be for many a debilitating injury.

But focusing only on such things would be shortsighted. For in doing so we obscure from history and from our heritage the real greatness of the man. We must – as he always did – look at the whole, not at the parts.

Carl Brashear wasn’t just a trailblazing African-American. He wasn’t just a superb and skilled diver. He was a good husband and father…a patriot…a leader. He was a friend who friends cherished, and a Sailor who Sailors admired. He represented in his poise and in his character something larger and more dignified than the trappings of military rank and position, no matter how hard-earned they proved to be.

Put simply, Carl Brashear was the very best of men. He was living proof that, in a world which can at times be unfair and uncompromising, persistence and sheer determination trumps all. He once recalled wryly during an interview that, as a chief petty officer dive instructor, his young students bemoaned the fact that Brashear simply “had no quitting sense.” He was as tough on them as he was on himself.

And that, I believe, is his greatest legacy – the one thing we ought never to forget about this remarkable naval hero. He leaves behind many terrific and improbable accomplishments, but the greatest is his example of toughness and leadership. It says all we really need to know about him.

Carl Brashear made us all better, and we – as a Navy and as a nation – are going to miss him sorely.

He was an incredible man and if you haven’t heard his story, go watch the movie. Hollywood actually did a good job with it. Probably because Carl himself was so involved in the project.


May he rest in peace.

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