By Kevin Fleming, ASC Public AffairsFebruary 15, 2017
Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. -- Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip Brashear, the son of the first black U.S. Navy master diver, served as the speaker for Rock Island Arsenal's National African American History Month Observance, here, Feb. 14.
The theme of this year's observance was, "Success always leaves footprints." Brashear said his father's successes in overcoming racism, poverty, illiteracy, disability and alcoholism taught him an important life lesson -- never give up.
"At a time when the nation was against people of color, he had to go against great racism just to join the Navy and to be who he was," said Brashear. "I think one of the most motivational things he ever did was to never give up in the face of obstacles."
Brashear's father, the late Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, was also the first amputee to be restored to full active duty as a Navy diver. He became a master diver in 1970, four years after an accident that resulted in him losing his leg.
The accident occurred during a mission in 1966 to recover a hydrogen bomb that was lost in Spanish waters after a plane crash. While the crew worked to recover the bomb, a pipe came free of the hoisting apparatus and struck Brashear's father in the left leg below the knee. His story was highlighted in the movie, "Men of Honor," released in 2000.
Brashear said he never wants his father, who died in 2006, to fade from memory.
"I don't want anyone to think that man never lived," he said. "I don't want him to be such a legend that sometime down the road he turns into a myth."
There were three things Brashear said his parents taught him to be successful. The first was, "If you're going to eat, you're going to work." The second was to get an education. The third was to "believe in something greater than yourself."
Brashear followed his father's footsteps when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1981. He served as an aircraft mechanic for several years before getting a position as a crew member in a helicopter. Realizing that he would rather pilot than ride in the back, Brashear joined the Virginia Army National Guard.
Brashear graduated from the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Flight School in 1991. Soon after, he earned his bachelor's degree from Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia, thus fulfilling one of his parent's wishes at age 38. He deployed in support of Stabilization Force 10 in Bosnia and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He joined the Army Reserve in 2009, and currently works as a weapons system program manager at the Defense Logistics Agency in Richmond, Virginia.
Brashear said he learned to persevere from his dad. He said that, in 2014, he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat condition that would have ended his career as a pilot. Brashear received medical treatment to correct his heartbeat, and, like his father before him, he had to prove to the military that he was still physically fit enough to serve.
"My dad's story is for real," he said. "Not only did my dad endure that, I endured that."
Brashear showed several videos of his dad to help the audience to better understand what he was like as a person. The videos included news interviews and community-produced tribute videos. One of the videos showed the launching of the USNS Carl Brashear, a Lewis and Clark-class cargo ship named in his memory.
"He was a great man with a wonderful sense of humor," said Brashear.
Maj. Gen. Edward Daly, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, provided closing remarks. ASC hosted the event.
"We will never, ever forget what a great American hero that man was," Daly said.
Daly said that diversity makes America strong and unique.
"Today, as you know, we recognize the impacts of African-Americans in the history of our armed forces," he said. "In doing so, we recognize the tremendous power of diversity as we come together and learn more about one another."
During the event, Laryssa Watkins, 5, received a standing ovation for reciting the poem, "Hey, Black Child," by Countee Cullen.
The winners of a high school writing contest, Asrielle Allen and Tajae Stoner-Harris from Rock Island High School, read their essays. The students were asked to write about going to lunch with a famous black person from history. Daly gave each winner a certificate of appreciation, and the Rock Island Arsenal Chapter of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club presented each with a Kindle Fire before the ceremony.
More than 200 people attended the event, which included a sampling of traditional Southern food.
Bethany Ferguson sang the national anthem. She is the daughter of Sgt. First Class Michelle Ferguson, operations sergeant, ASC.