By Columnist Bob Bridge
I enjoy old movies, and the fact I’ve seen several of them more than once or twice doesn’t necessarily nudge me toward viewing newer releases.
A few of my all-time favorites are “Good Will Hunting,” “A Few Good Men” and “A Time To Kill.” The scripts are stellar, and the thespians make me imagine they are authentic.
Friday evening, as I pondered retiring early, I undertook a quick scan of the old movie menu. My eyes paused on “Men of Honor,” a film starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro and Charlize Theron.
I clicked on it, pulled my basset hound blanket around my bare shoulders, then embarked on yet another sentimental journey. “Men of Honor” is based upon the life of Carl Brashear. I’ve spent the past 40 years writing stories about thousands of extraordinarily interesting individuals.
The most courageous and inspirational of those subjects?
Many of Carl’s family members still reside in Lawrence County, and they celebrated when Carl came to Bedford to promote “Men of Honor,” released in 2000.
How remarkable was this guy?
At 17, with his parents’ permission, Carl enlisted in the Navy. He became the first black deep sea diver, first black master diver, and first person in naval history to be restored to full active duty as an amputee.
I was blessed to spend quality time with Carl. A confident, yet modest man, the Kentucky native shared memories about growing up as the son of a sharecropper. Carl rose in status from reluctant cook to one of the more respected deep-sea divers in the history of the Navy.
A dreamer with the determination to achieve his lofty goals, Carl relied on a can-do spirit, refusing to permit discrimination and disrespect to deter him from his destiny.
“When people tell me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more,” he explained, flashing a feisty grin. He overcame disgusting displays of discrimination to earn a spot on the diving team, and he was on his way to becoming the Navy’s first black Master Chief diver when fate dealt him a sinister blow. While on board the USS Hoist in 1966 for the recovery of a nuclear weapon, Carl’s leg was severely injured in a freak accident. Surgeons amputated his left leg below the knee, and Navy officials sought to retire him as unfit for duty.
“During my recovery the officers said that was the end of my career as a chief petty officer and deep sea diver,” Carl explained. “In their opinion, I would no longer be able to serve.”
But Carl knew he had more to contribute. He was committed to his goal of achieving Master Chief status.
“I could not accept their decision,” he said. “I was driven and determined to reach my goal.”
Carl pushed his body beyond reasonable limits.
“They’d make up the rules as they went along,” he explained one day during a visit to Bedford’s Senior Citizen Center. “Anything they thought of having me to do, they would have me do it.”
Carl didn’t complain. He accepted each challenge. And, he achieved each goal.
“I was knocked down at times,” he conceded, “but I’ve always maintained it’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down. I used the obstacles as a source of strength.”
The late, great David Brinkley once mused, “A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.”
It saddens me to think Carl was compelled to overcome so much hatred and ignorance simply because of the color of his skin. He dodged a ton of bricks, yet remained persistently positive.
I think fond thoughts of him and his family each time our community celebrates the Dr. Martin Luther King March for Unity at the Lawrence County Courthouse.
He was a role model for me and so many others. As the movie title suggests, Carl Brashear was truly a “man of honor.”
Contact Columnist Bob Bridge at (812) 276-9646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.