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First Name: Carl

Last Name: Brashear

Birthplace: Tonieville, KY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)

Rating: Boatswain's Mate Master Chief Petty Officer

Middle Name: Maxie

Date of Birth: 19 January 1931

Date of Death: 25 July 2006

Rank or Rate: Master Chief Petty Officer

Years Served: 1948 - 1979
Carl Maxie Brashear

•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Carl Maxie Brashear was born on 19 January 1931, in Tonieville, KY, the sixth of eight children born to sharecroppers McDonald and Gonzella Brashear. In 1935, the family settled on a farm in Sonora, KY. Carl attended the Sonora Grade School from 1937 to 1946.

Military Service

Brashear enlisted in the U.S. Navy on 25 February 1948, shortly after the Navy was desegregated by U.S. President Harry S. Truman. In 1954, Carl became the first African-American to attend the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School in Bayonne, NJ. While attending diving school, Brashear faced hostility and racism. He found notes on his bunk saying, "We're going to drown you today, nigger!" and "We don't want any nigger divers." First Class Boatswain's Mate Rutherford encouraged Brashear to finish and Carl graduated 16th out of the class of 17, becoming the first African-American U.S. Navy Diver.

Brashear's first work as a diver was retrieving approximately 16,000 rounds of ammunition that fell off a barge which had broken in half and sunk to the bottom. On his first tour of shore duty in Quonset Point, RI, his duties included the salvaging of airplanes, including one Blue Angel and recovering multiple dead bodies.

Brashear was assigned to escort the presidential ship, the Barbara Ann, to Rhode Island. He met President Eisenhower and received a small knife with this inscription: "To Carl M. Brashear. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957. Many, many thanks." After making Chief Petty Officer in 1959, he stayed at Guam for three years doing mostly demolition dives.

In January 1966, in an accident now known as the Palomares Incident, a B28 nuclear bomb was lost off the coast of Palomares, Spain, after two U.S. Air Force planes of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), a B-52G Stratofortress bomber and a KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, collided during aerial refueling. Brashear was serving aboard the USS Hoist (ARS-40) when it was dispatched to find and recover the missing bomb for the Air Force. The warhead was found after two and a half months of searching. For his service in helping to retrieve the bomb, Brashear was later awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal - the highest Navy award for non-combat heroism.

During the bomb recovery operations on 23 March 1966, a line used for towing broke loose, causing a pipe to strike Brashear's left leg below the knee, nearly shearing it off. He was evacuated to Torrejon Air Base in Spain, then to the USAF Hospital at Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany; and finally to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, VA. Beset with persistent infection and necrosis, his left leg was eventually amputated.

Brashear remained at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Portsmouth from May 1966 until March 1967 recovering and rehabilitating from the amputation. From March 1967 to March 1968, Brashear was assigned to the Harbor Clearance Unit Two, Diving School, preparing for return to full active duty and diving. In April 1968, after a long struggle, Brashear was the first amputee diver to be (re)certified as a U.S. Navy diver. In 1970, he became the first African-American U.S. Navy Master Diver, and served ten more years beyond that, achieving the rating of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate in 1971. Brashear was motivated by his beliefs that "It's not a sin to get knocked down; it's a sin to stay down" and "I ain't going to let nobody steal my dream."

BMCM (MDV) Carl Maxie Brashear retired from the U.S. Navy on 1 April 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9) and Master Diver.

Badge, Medals & Awards

Master Diver Badge

Navy and Marine Corps Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation
Navy Unit Commendation
Navy Good Conduct Medal (7 Awards)
China Service Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal
National Defense Service Medal (2 Awards)
Korean Service Medal
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
United Nations Service Medal
Korean War Service Medal

In Retirement

After retiring, Carl served as a civilian employee for the government at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, VA, and retired in 1993 with the grade of GS-11.


Brashear's story is dramatized in the 2000 motion picture Men of Honor, in which Carl was portrayed by actor Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Brashear was honored with the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in October 2000 for 42 years of combined military and federal civilian service. The award was presented by Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

On 24 October 2007, the Newport News Fire Department dedicated a 33-foot high-speed fireboat named Carl Brashear to be used by their Dive and Marine Incident Response Teams.

The Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE-7) was christened in his honor in San Diego, CA, on 18 September 2008. General Dynamics delivered the completed ship to the Navy on 4 March 2009.

On 21 February 2009, Nauticus, a science and maritime museum in downtown Norfolk, VA, opened a new exhibit called "Dream to Dive: The Life of Master Diver Carl Brashear." It is the first full-scale museum exhibit dedicated to Brashear.

Personal Life

Brashear married and divorced three times: Junetta Wilcoxson (1952-1978), Hattie R. Elam (1980-1983), and Jeanette A. Brundage (1985-1987). He had four children: Shazanta (1955-1996) Private, U.S. Army, Vietnam, DaWayne, Phillip, and Patrick. Brashear's grand-nephew is former New York Rangers left wing Donald Brashear.

Death and Burial

Master Chief Petty Officer (MDV) Carl Maxie Brashear died of respiratory and heart failure on 25 July 2006, at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, VA. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, VA.

Honoree ID: 211921   Created by: MHOH




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