CARL BRASHEAR's inspiring life story Sonora, Kentucky Native and indomitable spirit are legendary in Navy circles. Before retiring, he became the first African-American Master Diver, despite a crippling injury.
Carl Brashear’s battle to join the unique corps of Navy deep-sea divers and achieve its highest rank was a personal one. Born in 1931 to a sharecropper family in Sonora, Kentucky, Brashear joined the Navy, at age 17, in 1948 - the same year President Truman desegregated the U.S. military. While the eager young sailor envisioned a worldly vocation, he instead found himself assigned and confined to the galley, like all blacks and Filipinos of the era. But once he observed the specialty of deep-sea diving, Brashear committed himself to making that his profession, which was unheard of for a black sailor at the time.
Once admitted to the Navy Dive School in Bayonne, New Jersey, Brashear had to overcome the limits of a seventh grade education. Segregated in life, if not by law, he persevered alone until his ability and skill earned him the equal standing he deserved. Brashear’s tenacity and indomitable spirit kept him focused through years of adversity, exclusion and resistance. His answer to the obstacles he faced was simple: untiring hard work.
Brashear went on to a notable career as a Navy Diver. Even after losing half his left leg during the recovery of a nuclear warhead in the Mediterranean in 1966, Brashear, through his remarkable force of will, convinced doubtful Navy officers that he was capable of performing in active duty, even as an amputee. Brashear not only continued to dive, but he also earned master diver certification. In 1998, he became one of only seven enlisted men in history to be enshrined in naval archives, with a 164-page volume transcribing an oral history of his life and career.