Carl Brashear

Carl Maxie Brashear (January 19, 1931 – July 25, 2006) was a highly decorated United States Navy sailor. He was a U.S. Navy master diver, rising to the position in 1970 having an amputated left leg. The film Men of Honor was based on his life.

Carl Brashear
Born(1931-01-19)January 19, 1931
Tonieville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJuly 25, 2006(2006-07-25) (aged 75)
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1948–1979
RankMaster chief petty officer
Commands heldUSS Hunley (AS-31), Master Diver
USS Recovery (ARS-43), Command Master Chief / Master Diver
AwardsNavy and Marine Corps Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal

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.[1][2] 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.[1]

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 Boatswain's Mate First Class Rutherford, and graduated 16 out of 17.

Brashear first worked 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 yacht the Barbara Anne 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] In April 1968, after a long struggle, Brashear was the first amputee diver to be (re)certified as a U.S. Navy diver.[7] In 1970, he became the first African-American U.S. Navy master diver, and served nine more years beyond that, achieving the rating of master chief boatswain's mate in 1971.[1][8] 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.[1]

Personal life

Brashear married and divorced three times:[2] 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.[1] Brashear's grand-nephew is retired professional ice hockey player Donald Brashear.[9]

Brashear died of respiratory and heart failure at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia, on July 25, 2006.[1] He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia.

Media portrayal

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 awards

Navy Master Diver Badge
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
Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service Navy Good Conduct Medal (8 awards) China Service Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star Korean Service Medal with two service stars
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal United Nations Korea Medal Korean War Service Medal
Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist insignia


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.[10]

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.[11][12][13] General Dynamics delivered the completed ship to the Navy on March 4, 2009.[14]

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".[15] It is the first full-scale museum exhibit dedicated to Brashear.

In 2009 the Chief Petty Officer Club onboard Naval Station Little Creek VA was renamed The Carl Brashear Center. Carl's son and several friends gave speeches at and attended the renaming ceremony. Carl was known to frequent the CPO Club onboard Little Creek up until the time of his death.

On November 9, 2017, the Commonwealth of Kentucky dedicated the "Carl M. Brashear Radcliff Veterans Center" in honor of BMCM (MDV) Carl Brashear.[16] Construction on the new center, which is located about 30 miles from Brashear's hometown of Sonora, was completed about a year before the dedication ceremony. On hand was his son Phillip, Founder of the Brashear Foundation, Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, Veterans Center Administrator Israel Ray, members of the Brashear family,[16] along with members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association who nominated and worked to collect over 7,000 signatures in support of naming the center after Brashear.

On July 25, 2018, Lincoln Parkway bridge, just outside Tonieville, KY was renamed the "Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Maxie Brashear Memorial Bridge."[17]

See also


  1. Dorsey, Jack; Washington, Jim (July 26, 2006). "Pioneering Navy diver Carl Brashear dies in Portsmouth". The Virginian-Pilot. p. A1. Archived from the original on November 2, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2006.
  2. U.S. Navy profile, NHC, 2001.
  3. "Oral History of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear, USN (Ret.)". United States Naval Institute. November 17, 1989. Archived from the original on April 14, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2006.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 16, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. Reel Faces.
  6. "Transcript of Service". Naval Historical Center. United States Department of the Navy. Archived from the original on August 5, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2006.
  7. "First Black Navy Diver Dies". July 26, 2006.
  8. Forster, Dave (July 30, 2006). "Navy pioneer's life, career led by determination". The Virginian-Pilot. pp. A1, A10. Retrieved July 30, 2006.
  9. Wise, Mike (May 2, 2009). "For Capitals' Brashear, Fighting's a Way of Life". Washington Post. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  10. Newport News Fire Department: Fireboat-1 Carl Brashear Archived January 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  11. Wiltrout, Kate (September 19, 2008). "Navy Ship Named For Diving Pioneer". The Virginian Pilot. pp. Hampton Roads 1–2.
  12. "Navy Secretary Names Two New Auxiliary Dry Cargo Ships". Press release. Department of Defense. Archived from the original on January 13, 2009. Retrieved March 10, 2008.
  13. "Navy to christen ship today honoring diver Carl Brashear". Hampton September 15, 2008. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
  14. General Dynamics NASSCO Delivers USNS Carl Brashear, General Dynamics Press Release, March 4, 2009, retrieved from on May 31, 2009
  15. Nauticus: Changing Exhibit Archived February 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  16. Alford, Mary (October 1, 2017). "Radcliff Veterans Center to honor Sonora native". The News-Enterprise. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  17. "Bridge to be named after Carl Brashear". The News-Enterprise. July 24, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2018.


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