Legendary Navy diver’s son recalls father’s legacy

Veterans Voices

(WVNS) — Carl Brashear dedicated his life to the U.S. Navy despite experiencing racism and a life-changing accident. But as his son, Phillip, recalled, this decorated Navy officer never let adversity stop him.

“It’s not a sin to get knocked down, it’s a sin to stay down. My dad believed whatever life gave you, you used that to make you stronger. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Whatever had you’re dealt, use that hand to be whatever you want to be,” Phillip said.

Carl Brashear was a true man of honor. His story is one of triumph, perseverance, and the unbreakable human spirit. Carl Brashear not only dedicated his life to the U.S. Navy, he became a symbol of what is means to be an American.

“Master Chief, Master Diver, Carl Brashear, was the first African American Diver in the U.S. Navy,” Phillip said.

Brashear joined the Navy in 1948 and later attended the U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage School, becoming the first African American to graduate. With that accomplishment came hatred and racism. Brashear faced hostility from his own peers, but Phillip said he never let it stop him from moving up the ranks.

“He just felt that if continued and pressed on, ignored some of the backlash and racism that was thrown his way, then he could overcome. My father never thought of himself as less than a person,” Phillip said.

His life would change forever during a mission off the coast of Spain in the 1960s. While recovering a bomb, Brashear suffered an injury causing him to lose his left leg. For many, that loss would have been the end of their careers, but for Brashear, it was just a minor setback. A couple years later he became the first amputee diver in the U.S. Navy.

“My father thought that losing his leg wasn’t that big of a deal, he could still maintain his physical fitness to carry that 300 pound diving suit. He knew in his heart he could finish and complete his career,” Phillip explained.

Brashear would go on to serve 32 years in the Navy, becoming a Navy Master Diver and Master Chief Petty Officer. He earned countless medals and the USNS Carl Brashear was named in his honor. A Swiss watch company even designed two watches after him. His achievements inspired the movie, Men of Honor.

“He always believed that if you tried and failed, that’s better than not trying at all. Because once you say you can’t do something, you’ve already limited yourself on your accomplishments,” Phillip said.

Phillip followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the military. He flew helicopters for the U.S. Army Reserve. He later earned a degree from Bluefield College.

Now, Phillip spends his time helping veterans just like his father through the Carl Brashear Foundation. He gives thousands of dollars to VA hospitals across the country, all while honoring his father’s legacy.

“As long as I’m living and able to tell his story, and keep my father’s legacies and memories alive, I want people to know he was a real man who experienced real things. It’s a motivational story for everyone,” Phillip said.

To learn more about Carl Brashear or donate to his foundation, click here.

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