It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down.
– Carl M. Brashear
Master Chief Brashear was the first African-American US Master Diver.
Brashear faced an uphill battle when he joined the Navy in 1948 at the age of 17, not long after the U.S. military desegregated.
“I went to the Army office, and they weren’t too friendly. But the Navy recruiter was a lot nicer. Looking back, I was placed in my calling.”
Brashear quickly decided after boot camp that he wanted to become a deep-sea diver.
“Growing up on a farm in Kentucky, I always dreamed of doing something challenging,” he said. “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,” he said. “They didn’t want me to make it through the program.”
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, the result of a leg injury he sustained during a salvage operation to recover a bomb from the sea bed..
During the mission, Brashear was struck below his left knee by a pipe that the crew was using to hoist the bomb out of the water. Brashear was airlifted to a naval hospital where the bottom of his left leg was amputated to avoid gangrene. It later was replaced with a prosthetic leg.
The Navy was ready to retire Brashear from active duty, but he soon began a grueling training program that included diving and running.
“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 “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-foot to 1,000-foot-deep dives while being evaluated for five weeks at the Experimental Diving Unit in Washington, D.C., Brashear became a master diver in 1970.