VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Nearly 800 family, friends, active duty and retired service members gathered at the Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) Little Creek Chapel July 29, to pay their final respects to retired Master Chief Carl Brashear, the Navy's first black Master Diver and a man whose boundless determination inspired every walk of life.
Brashear died July 25 at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth of respiratory and heart failure. He was 75.
"We gather to pay tribute to a seaman, a Sailor in whose chest beat the most valiant heart of all," said NAB Little Creek Command Master Chief, CMDCM(AW/SW) Hakim Diaz, speaking on behalf of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe R. Campa.
Brashear's son Phillip, a Chief Warrant Officer 4 in the U.S. Army, who returned from service in Iraq on emergency leave to be at his father's bedside when he passed away, spoke candidly about his father's courage and character.
"He taught people world-wide that your race, your gender, your religion, none of that makes any difference," said Phillip. "You can achieve your goals, you can be held accountable to your characteristics as a person not by the color of your skin."
Brashear joined the Navy in 1948 at the age of 17, shortly after the Navy had desegregated. In 1954 he was accepted and graduated from the diving program.
During the service, retired Master Diver J. Lamont King, the fifth black American in history to earn the title spoke about Brashear's legacy.
Hundreds of mourners listened as many stood up to share their thoughts and feelings on the passing of their shipmate.
"Carl, a man with such humble beginnings, has touched so many people," said King. "He represented African-Americans. He represented people with disabilities. He represented the United States Navy. He represented veterans. He was the best of the best of what was truly American."
In 1967, a year after an injury onboard the salvage ship Hoist cost him his left leg, Brashear became the first Navy diver to be restored to full active duty as an amputee. For many, his courage broke barriers and helped changed attitudes about the disabled.
To his legacy, Brashear was the only amputee deep-sea diver to reach the status of Master Diver and the first black man to ever become a Master Diver in the U.S. Navy, a position he held from 1970 to 1979. Brashear retired from the Navy in 1979 after more than 30 years of service.
"Carl was a mentor to me," said Retired Chief (DV/SW) Pete Schwartz, who served on USS Recovery with Brashear from 1971-75.
"He was there when my first child was born. When my wife was in the hospital, he came to visit. He treated everyone fairly. If you made a mistake he'd tell you to get up and do it again."
Following the service, Brashear was laid to rest at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Va.
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