Master Diver Carl “Maxie” Brashear was the first African American U.S. master diver to serve for the United States Navy. A native of Sonora, Kentucky, a 17-year-old Brashear enlisted in the United States Navy on February 25, 1948, shortly after the Navy had desegregated. His road to graduation wasn’t easy. Brashear received hate notes on his bunk during his training. Despite this, he was the first black to attend and graduate from Diving & Salvage School, and would later earn the rank of master diver in 1970 after intense dives up to 1,000 feet.
Brashear retired from the navy in 1979.
Years later, Brashear would return to active duty. It was one incident that put him back in history as the first amputee diver to be certified as a U.S. Navy diver. He lost his leg during an operation to recover a hydrogen bomb that dropped into waters off Spain. During the mission, two U.S. Air Force planes collided. While recovering the bomb, his leg was hit by a pipe. To avoid gangrene, doctors amputated his leg.
Brashear’s training as an amputee was grueling, but he wouldn’t express just how painful it was to the Navy. He knew they would take him out of training.
In 2000, Brashear’s life was portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the film “Men of Honor.”
Carl Brashear passed away in July 2006 from respiratory and heart failure.