Black History: Special Delivery!!

Carl Brashear 2
Carl Bashear

Carl Brashear was born in 1931 in Tonjeville, Kentucky. He was the 6th of 8 children born to a sharecropper family. At age 17, in 1948, he entered the Navy and began training in Great Lakes, IL.  He experienced prejudice and poor treatment from one of his navy recruiters. This did not discourage him. He passed the Navy entrance exam and enlisted. It was during this time that he developed and interest in diving. During this era, blacks in the military were often held back from prominent roles such as diving. Instead they were often placed in steward or food service type roles. After many requests, Brashear’s commanding officer allowed him to practice in the Navy pool and begin training. As a result, he faced threats and intimidation due to his race. He continued to persevere despite the obstacles and soon became Leading Diver and Port Duty Chief.

In 1966, while aboard the USS Hoist, Brashear was badly injured in an accident while searching for a bomb. There was no doctor on board and it took 6 hours for him to receive proper medical attention. By the time he did reach a military base to receive treatment, those treating him thought he was dead and sent him to the morgue. However, another physician in the morgue checked him one last time and found a faint heart beat. While the medical team was able to save his life; an infection and gangrene had set up in his injured leg. After 2 months, he had to have his leg amputated below the knee. He was then fitted with a prosthetic leg. Due to his injuries the Navy sought to retire him; feeling that he was unfit for duty. However, Brashear was able to demonstrate that he was still able to serve and perform diving functions and other duties. He underwent grueling training to continue moving towards his goal of becoming a master diver. The training involved him carrying 290 pounds of diving equipment.

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Carl Bashear in diving training after his accident. His prosthetic left leg can be seen in this photo. He is wearing weights on his back to mimic the weight of diving equipment

In March of 1967 his doctors finally transferred him to Second Class Diving School at Norfolk. He was then put back to full active duty and full diving status in April of 1968. He would become the Navy’s first amputee diver. It was in 1970 that Bashear finally achieved his goal and was named Master Diver, the first African American in Navy history to do so. He retired from the military service in 1979 and then worked for the government in various roles. He retired from government service in 1993. Bashear died of respiratory failure and heart failure in Porstmouth, VA on July 25, 2006. The story of his life and achievements was portrayed in the movie, “Men Of Honor” starring Robert Dinero and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in 2000.