Men of Honor 'Never Give Up,' Says Navy Hero
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2000 Up until now, few outside the Navy have ever heard of retired Master Chief Petty Officer Carl M. Brashear. But no good story goes untold, and that's definitely the case for this unsung Navy hero.
After 20 years of waiting, Brashear's story will be told across the land when 20th Century Fox Film Corp. releases "Men of Honor" Nov. 10. The film stars Academy-Award winners Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert DeNiro.
Academy-award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. waves to fans while retired Master Chief Petty Officer Carl M. Brashear, the Navy's first African-American master diver, looks on. Gooding plays Brashear in the new movie "Men of Honor," due to be released Nov. 10. Both attended the film's Washington premiere Oct. 21. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The story, directed by George Tillman Jr. and produced by Robert Teitel, is based on a true story. The courage and determination portrayed by Gooding and DeNiro is extraordinary. Despite the odds of race and origin, Brashear, a Kentucky sharecropper's son, became the Navy's first African-American deep sea diver.
After losing much of his left leg in the line of duty, he went on to become a master diver. His father had said, "Never give up," and the son who sought a life at sea said he never did.
"If you set your goals and work toward them with all of your might, you'll be successful -- whether people like you or not," the master chief said here at the film's Oct. 21 premiere.
Brashear, now 69, and Gooding, 32, brought a taste of Hollywood to the nation's capital at the screening and reception hosted by 20th Century Fox. Photographers and TV crews lined the entrance as Pentagon officials, active duty Navy divers and other guests came out to greet the Hollywood star and the real-life Navy hero.
"Never in my wildest dreams back in 1948 did I ever think I'd be the subject of a Hollywood motion picture," Brashear told reporters as he walked the red carpet outside the Cineplex Odeon theater in northwest Washington. "It was a pleasure to see this movie being made and the support the United States Navy provided in making the film."
Gooding was the ideal person to play the role of a Navy diver, Brashear said, because he's energetic and has a good attitude. "The reason the movie wasn't made 20 years ago was because Cuba wasn't old enough to play in my movie," the master chief noted. "God made it possible to happen right now and I'm very proud of Cuba Gooding Jr."
Playing the role was "pretty overwhelming," Gooding remarked to the press. "I had an experience that I'll never forget. It was an honor. It's changed my life."
On the set, he added, Brashear was "supportive, never intrusive and he helped me focus on his life and allowed me to show the emotional side of some of the things he went through. He never really stepped in and said, 'No, I wouldn't do that.' He just let the movie happen. I'm proud of this movie -- as proud of any other film I've done. I can't wait for people to see it."
Brashear doesn't see himself as disabled, Gooding pointed out. "He's such a strong, powerful man. He can jog backward and he only has one and a half legs. And he's not handicapped. He tells me all the time it's not a handicap. It's just an obstacle that he went through and he's still just as strong as he ever was."
Turning to the master chief proudly grinning at his side, the Hollywood star asked, "Want to wrestle?"
On a more serious note, Gooding said that while he's proud of his first major role in "Boyz N the Hood," a film about gang violence in inner cities, he's since changed his mind about the something his character said about the military in that film.
"One of the statements my character made in the movie was, 'You stay out of the Army. That's the white man's Army,' he said. "While I'm very proud of that movie, that was a statement that I'd never really thought about. I said it as an actor."
Then about a year and a half ago, Gooding's agent sent him a script about Brashear's life that made him weep. "It wasn't just because of the emotion that I experienced by reading the script, it was partly my embarassment that I never knew that there was a man, let alone an African- American man, who had accomplished so much for our armed forces.
"Then finding that he made naval history by being the first amputee to achieve master diver status -- I said, 'Even if I don't portray this role, this is something I want to see brought to the big screen.'"
Americans should be proud of the men and women who protect the nation, according to Gooding, who hopes people will be inspired by people like Brashear. The Navy chief had the courage to overcome every obstacle, he said.
Service members often "act out of necessity" and become heroes as a result," the actor said. "Yet, they feel "they're just doing their job."
Gooding also hopes the film will boost morale within the Navy, especially after the recent terrorist attack on the destroyer USS Cole that killed 17 sailors and injured 45.
"If just for a moment the film helps somebody, then we did our job," he said. "I know it sounds corny, but I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to be here. I love you Carl."