Feb 6

Master Diver, Navy Pioneer Carl Brashear

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 12:01 AM


Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear, USN (Ret.) (1931-2006)

Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl M. Brashear, USN (Ret.) (1931-2006)

Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Maxie Brashear (1931–2006) used a rare combination of grit, determination, and persistence to overcome formidable hurdles in becoming the first black master diver in the U.S. Navy. His race was an obstacle, as were his upbringing on a sharecropper’s farm in rural Kentucky and the modest amount of education he received there. But these were not his greatest challenges. He was held back by an even bigger factor: In 1966, his left leg was amputated just below the knee after he was badly injured during an operation to recover a nuclear bomb. Brashear recalls the recovery effort and accident in the following excerpt from his U.S. Naval Institute oral history.

After the amputation, the Navy sought to retire Brashear from active duty, but he refused to submit to the decision. Instead, he secretly returned to diving and produced evidence that he could still excel, despite his injury. Then, in 1970, he qualified as a master diver, a difficult feat under any circumstances and something no black man had accomplished before. By the time of his retirement, he had achieved the highest possible rate—master chief petty officer—for Navy enlisted personnel.

Based on two interviews conducted by oral historian Paul Stillwell in November 1989 and March 1990, Brashear’s oral history volume contains 164 pages of interview transcript plus a comprehensive index. The transcript is copyright 1998 jointly by Carl Maxie Brashear and the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear, USN (Ret.) (1931-2006)

Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl M. Brashear preparing for a dive.

To read more about the Naval Institute Oral History Program, go to https://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history-catalog.


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