America lost one of its bravest and toughest sons today. Carl Brashear, the Navy’s first black diver, died at age 75, leaving behind four children and a legend:
Carl M. Brashear, the first black U.S. Navy diver who was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 2000 film “Men of Honor,” died Tuesday. He was 75.
Brashear died at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth of respiratory and heart failure, the medical center said.
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.
“The African-American community lost a great leader today in Carl Brashear,” Gooding said of the man he played alongside Robert DeNiro, who was Brashear’s roughneck training officer in “Men of Honor.” “His impact to us as a people and all races will be felt for many decades to come.”
Men Of Honor paid tribute to Brashear, and a terrific performance by Cuba Gooding allowed Americans to know a little about Brashear and his tenacity and courage. He had already served 18 years in the Navy as a diving specialist when an accident almost tore his leg from his body, and the doctors amputated it to keep gangrene from killing Brashear. He could easily have taken a disability leave — the Navy insisted on it — but instead requalified as a Navy diver with his prosthesis. He continued his career and achieved the highest rank among all divers.
If the movie juggled facts and got a little schmaltzy, Brashear never appeared to do either. His tough-as-nails legend provides inspiration for all Americans, and many more to come. In that way, Brashear will never really leave us; we will simply tell his story to the next generation, and he will continue to inspire and instruct us.
Godspeed, Carl Brashear, and thank you.