Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Maxie Brashear (1931–2006) used a rare combination of grit, determination, and persistence to overcome formidable hurdles in becoming the first black master diver in the U.S. Navy. His race was an obstacle, as were his upbringing on a sharecropper's farm in rural Kentucky and the modest amount of education he received there. But these were not his greatest challenges. He was held back by an even bigger factor: In 1966, his left leg was amputated just below the knee after he was badly injured during an operation to recover a nuclear bomb. Brashear recalls the recovery effort and accident in the following excerpt from his U.S. Naval Institute oral history.
After the amputation, the Navy sought to retire Brashear from active duty, but he refused to submit to the decision. Instead, he secretly returned to diving and produced evidence that he could still excel, despite his injury. Then, in 1970, he qualified as a master diver, a difficult feat under any circumstances and something no black man had accomplished before. By the time of his retirement, he had achieved the highest possible rate—master chief petty officer—for Navy enlisted personnel.
To read more about the Naval Institute Oral History Program, go to https://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history-catalog.