Kentuckian Carl Brashear, first black Navy diver, dies
(KENTUCKY JOURNAL 26 JULY 2006)… Michael Felberbaum
RICHMOND, Va. — Carl M. Brashear, a Kentucky native and the first black U.S. Navy diver, died yesterday. He was 75.
Brashear, who was born and raised in Sonora, was the inspiration for the 2000 film "Men of Honor," in which Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed him and starred alongside Robert De Niro.
Brashear died at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth of respiratory and heart failure, the medical center said.
Brashear retired from the Navy in 1979 after more than 30 years of service. He was the first Navy diver to be restored to full active duty as an amputee.
In 1966, Brashear was tasked with recovering a hydrogen bomb that dropped into waters off Spain when two U.S. Air Force planes collided.
During the mission, Brashear was struck below his left knee by a pipe. He was airlifted to a naval hospital and had the bottom of his left leg amputated. It was replaced with a prosthetic.
The Navy was ready to retire Brashear from active duty, but he began a grueling training program that included diving, running and calisthenics.
"Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. I wouldn't go to sick bay because they would have taken me out of the program," Brashear said in 2002 when he was inducted into the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians.
"Instead I'd go hide somewhere and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it -- that's an old remedy I learned growing up."
After completing 600- to 1,000-foot dives while being evaluated for five weeks at the Experimental Diving Unit in Washington, D.C., Brashear became a master diver in 1970.
He faced an uphill battle when he joined the Navy in 1948 at age 17, not long after the U.S. military desegregated.
"I went to the Army office, and they weren't too friendly," Brashear said in 2002. "But the Navy recruiter was a lot nicer. Looking back, I was placed in my calling.
"Growing up on a farm in Kentucky, I always dreamed of doing something challenging. When I saw the divers for the first time, I knew it was just what I wanted."
In 1954, he was accepted and graduated from the diving program, despite daily battles with discrimination.
"Hate notes were left on my bunk. People just weren't ready for a segregated Navy; they didn't want me to make it through the program," he said.
He went on to train for advanced diving programs before his 1966 accident.
Brashear married childhood friend Junetta Wilcox in 1952, and they had four children -- Shazanta, DaWayne, Phillip and Patrick -- before their divorce in 1978. He later married Hattie R. Elam and Jeanette A. Brundage.
The family has not made funeral arrangements