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CHIPS Articles: Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear — the Navy’s First Black Master Diver

Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear — the Navy’s First Black Master Diver
By Naval History and Heritage Command - February 12, 2015
In June 1970, Carl M. Brashear graduated from the Deep-Sea Diving School at the Experimental Diving Unit located at the Washington Navy Yard at Washington, D.C. and became the first African-American Master Diver in the U.S. Navy. He then reported to USS Hunley, later transferring to USS Recovery. While on Recovery, Brashear was promoted to Master Chief Boatswain's Mate in 1971. In June 1975, he was the Master Diver at the Naval Safety Center at Norfolk, Virginia.

Courage and determination marked Brashear’s rise in the Navy. In September 1965, he was ordered to USS Hoist. On March 23, 1966, Hoist participated in the recovery of atomic bombs following the crash of two U.S. Air Force planes off the coast of Palomares, Spain. While retrieving one of the bombs, a towing line broke loose, striking Brashear's left leg and immediately giving him life-threatening injuries. Evacuated from the area, he was transferred to Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia, where the portion of the leg was eventually amputated.

During his recovery time, Brashear was promoted to Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate. In March 1967, he recovered from his injuries and reported to the Diving School at Harbor Clearance Unit Two, Little Creek, Virginia, for rehabilitation and training. After becoming recertified in March 1968 as a diver, the first amputee to serve as such in the U.S. Navy, he reported to Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia.

In June 1977, he reported back to Recovery. In October 1978, he served at the Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity at Norfolk, Virginia. In April 1979, Brashear retired from active duty and remained in the area serving as a civilian employee for the U.S. Navy until 1993.

Brashear’s resolve to remain in the Navy and continue diving despite his injuries inspired those who were privileged to know him. He was an icon of courage both in his Navy service and as a Navy civilian.

“I can honestly say that I reached my goal in the Navy. It was an exciting career, but then it wasn’t a bed of roses either. I had my ups and downs in the Navy, but I would do it over if I could. I enjoyed the excitement of being a deep-sea diver. I grew a lot in the Navy. As a matter of fact, I grew up in the Navy as far as my professional life goes. . . . And I just enjoyed the Navy. I really did. I don’t think I could have made it in civilian life with the limited education I had and my attitude. I think the Navy was the best place for me to grow up and find myself.” [Source: Paul Stillwell’s career interview with MC Carl M. Brashear for the United States Naval Institute, 1998, pages 160-161]

Carl Maxie Brashear was born on Jan. 19, 1931 in Tonieville, Kentucky. He enlisted from that same state in the U.S. Navy in February 1948. Following Basic Training at Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, he was assigned to Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida.

Carl M. Brashear died on July 25, 2006.

To learn more about U.S. Navy history, please go to the Naval History and Heritage Command website: www.history.navy.mil/.

Photographed on board USS Hunley (AS-31) while at sea, circa April 1971. Photograph was taken by Chief Photographer's Mate R.A. Walker. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Photographed on board USS Hunley (AS-31) while at sea, circa April 1971. Photograph was taken by Chief Photographer's Mate R.A. Walker. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Half-tone photograph taken from the Memorial Service Pamphlet for Master Chief Brashear held at the Chapel at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia, on July 29, 2006. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Half-tone photograph taken from the Memorial Service Pamphlet for Master Chief Brashear held at the Chapel at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia, on July 29, 2006. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
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