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RIP Carl Brashear

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by KYSportsWriter, Jul 27, 2006.

  1. KYSportsWriter

    KYSportsWriter Well-Known Member

    Brashear was the man the movie "Men of Honor" was written for. He died Tuesday.

    As far as his family’s concerned, Carl Maxie Brashear was destined for his Navy career. He was a mischievous, daring child who would spend most of his free time swimming in the ponds on the farm where his family lived in Sonora.

    Once, he took his younger sister, Norma Jean Moore, by the hand and led her into a pond.

    “I couldn’t swim,” she said, laughing as she recalled how Brashear kept walking her deeper and deeper in the muddy water until it was as high as her neck. “I kept telling him not to let me drown.”

    The pond incident was an example of the determined attitude her brother believed in.

    “He always wanted to do the impossible,” the Elizabethtown resident said.

    Brashear, 75, died Tuesday at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia.

    He was the Navy’s first black deep-sea and master diver and the first Navy diver to be restored to full active duty as an amputee. His story was chronicled in the 2000 movie “Men of Honor” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Brashear.

    He may have been a celebrity to some, but to his family and friends he remained the same determined, mischievous, modest man they always had known.

    “I’d tell him, ‘you’re a hero,’” said his older sister Florine Harris of Elizabethtown. “He said, ‘no, I’m Carl Maxie.’”

    Brashear and his seven siblings grew up on a farm in Sonora. His parents, McDonal and Gonzella Brashear, were sharecroppers. He and his brothers and sisters attended school in Sonora at a one-room schoolhouse.

    Childhood friend Carrie Richardson remembers Brashear as a pleasant person who loved the water and loved to swim so much that other friends of the family would tell his mother that Brashear reminded them of a turtle, always in the water.

    Harris helped take care of Brashear while her mother worked.

    “He called me his second mama,” she said. “He was real active. He liked to go swimming.”

    The family called Brashear “Dit” but no one can remember where the nickname came from.

    “I think it just fell on him,” Norma Moore said.

    When he was 17, Brashear went to an Army recruiter.

    It was shortly after the U.S. military was desegregated.

    He didn’t like the way Army recruiters talked to him, Norma Moore remembers. So he went to a Navy recruiter instead.

    He joined the Navy in 1948 and set out to become a deep-sea diver. He graduated from the diving program in 1954. In 1966, he was part of a crew that was on a mission to recover a hydrogen bomb that fell from a U.S. Air Force plane into waters off of Spain.
  2. KYSportsWriter

    KYSportsWriter Well-Known Member

    During the mission, a pipe swung loose as the crew tried to lift the bomb from the water and struck Brashear below his left knee. The bottom of his leg was amputated as a result of the accident and replaced with a prosthetic.

    Brashear may have lost a limb, but he didn’t lose sight of his goal of becoming a master diver, his family said. His motto became “I ain’t gonna let nobody steal my dream.’’

    “We knew his determination, and if he put his mind to it, that’s what he was going to do,” Norma Moore said.

    He began a rigorous training program and eventually proved to the Navy that his injury would not hold him back. He became the Navy’s first black master diver in 1970.

    Brashear’s story was the subject of the motion picture “Men of Honor.” When he heard that his life story would become a movie, he was honored, but still modest.

    “He enjoyed it very much,” Harris said. “But it didn’t go to his head.”

    Seeing her brother’s story on the big screen was on one hand thrilling, but also heartbreaking as she watched Cuba Gooding Jr. depict the struggles that Brashear had endured, Harris said. He battled both his injury and racial discrimination during his fight for master diver.

    “He was never out for fame,” said his nephew, Reggie Moore. “His purpose was to be a diver. He had a goal, and he worked to reach it.”

    Brashear retired from the Navy in 1979 and settled in Virginia. He and his first wife, childhood friend Junetta Wilcox, had four sons before they divorced in 1978. His son, Phillip Brashear, a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Army, traveled home on emergency leave from Iraq to be with his father and was with him when he died.

    Although he lived in Virginia, Brashear would travel to his hometown as often as he could, his family members said.

    “Sometimes he’d surprise us. He wouldn’t tell us he was coming, and then we’d see him coming up the walk,” Harris said.

    He was a local celebrity in Sonora and Hardin County. A historical marker is dedicated to Brashear in Sonora. He is the subject of an exhibit in the Hardin County History Museum. In 2004, family members and The Retired Enlisted Association chapter in Elizabethtown unsuccessfully lobbied city officials to name Veterans Way after Brashear.

    He serves as a good ambassador for the area, his nephew said.

    “It goes to show you can come from humble beginnings and reach great heights,” Reggie Moore said.

    Brashear last visited the area about three years ago, Norma Moore said. He was sick then and remained ill until his death, she said.

    Norma Moore visited her brother for three days last week.

    He was very weak, she said, sleeping a lot. But he still would talk to anyone who came to visit.

    Since his accident, Brashear served as an inspiration to many, including fellow amputees, Norma Moore said. He would provide encouragement to the many who sought his advice.

    “He liked to inspire other people,” she said.

    Brashear was one of the most inspirational people who ever served in the U.S. Navy, said Joe R. Campa, the master chief petty officer of the Navy.

    “His perseverance through grueling physical struggles, not to mention his amazing will to succeed despite the barriers placed before him by the society of his time, will continue long into the future to define what it means to be a hero,” Campa said in a news release.

    But to his family and friends, he’ll always be the same old Carl.

    “One of the things I really loved about him was out of all he accomplished it never changed him,” Richardson said.

    Funeral arrangements for Brashear are pending, family members said.

    The county, the state and the nation have lost a great man in his uncle, Reggie Moore said.

    “He fought his last battle and now he’s at rest,” he said.

    The family is proud of Brashear’s accomplishments and hopes he will continue to be a role model for others.

    “His can-do spirit that he always talked about is very real,” Reggie Moore said. “That’s what people can take with them today.”
  3. Jesus_Muscatel

    Jesus_Muscatel Well-Known Member

    A few years back, I got a late start on a road trip to cover some college hoops.

    I checked into my hotel about 1 in the morning. Maybe later. Had to be up by 8, 8:30.

    Turned on the TV, out of habit, when I got into the room.

    Men of Honor had just started on HBO.

    Always been a big DeNiro fan, and Cuba's very good, too.

    I got very little sleep that night. Touching film.

    RIP Mr. Brashear.
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