If it is difficulty that shows what men are, there should be no doubt about what kind of man Carl Brashear is. The Navy's first African-American Master Diver, Brashear faced difficulties that would have defeated most people. His spirit and determination resulted not only in his overcoming great odds to become a U.S. Navy diver, but also in his surviving the loss of a leg in an accident on the USS Hoist in 1966 - and more amazingly - in his attaining the rank of Master Diver.
In the fall, Twentieth Century Fox will release The Diver, the story of Brashear's struggle. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Brashear. The film also stars Robert DeNiro as Billy Sunday, a senior officer and Master Diver who is at first another obstacle, but who ultimately helps Brashear overcome his crippling injury, as well as racism, bureaucracy.
Brashear joined the Navy in 1948 at the age of 17. The film follows his acceptance into dive school, his training in the Mark V gear, and the accident that could have ended his career. Brashear's struggle to convince the Naval Bureau of Medicine and Surgery to allow him to continue diving is an integral part of the story.
Carl Brashear was born in rural Kentucky in 1931. His family moved to Sonora, Ky., when he was only two weeks old. He grew up swimming in creeks and rivers near his home, but there was nothing to indicate that his life would take the twists and turns that eventually resulted in his spending almost 32 years in the U.S. Navy. Becoming not only the Navy's first African-American Master Diver, but also its first amputee diver. Brashear joined the Navy as a steward. He was sent to a Beach master’s unit in Florida, and there he first saw divers in Mark V gear. He was hooked. In 1949 he qualified using the Jack Browne rig, then progressed to the Mark V in 1953.
Gaining official diver status was in itself quite an achievement at the time. Brashear attained the rank of Chief Petty Officer E7 and worked successfully, but relatively uneventfully, until March 26, 1966, when the determination that he had originally called upon to help him become a Navy diver would seem almost feeble in comparison to the tenacity that he would need in order to stay a Navy diver.
On January 17, 1966, a U.S. Air Force B-52G bomber carrying a hydrogen bomb collided with a KC-135 refueling tanker off the coas...
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...nstrated his ability to climb ladders and to dive. On the surface, he had to walk at least 12 steps, wearing the 290-pound helium/oxygen rig. He was also required to dive in scuba gear and engage in physical training with other dive school students. That physical training included calisthenics and running.
When Brashear ran, scar tissue would break loose and blood would leak into his artificial leg. To prevent infection, he would remove the prosthesis and soak his leg in warm water laced with hydrogen peroxide or Betadine. He never told his doctors about the problem because, "I hadn't made Master Diver yet." That goal kept him going.
In March of 1967, doctors finally Okayed his transfer to Second Class Diving School in Norfolk, VA. In April 1968, he was restored to full active duty and full diving status, the Navy's first amputee diver.
Carl Brashear’s Story,
Master Chief Carl Brashear
Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Maxie Brashear, USN
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