Pentagon Honors Navy's 'Men of Honor'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2000 Essential, yet unheralded, Navy divers work deep beneath the seas to save lives, recover remains and salvage equipment. It's a dangerous job, physically demanding, infinitely challenging.
Pentagon leaders honored the Navy's past and present deep sea divers here Oct. 21 and gave "four stars" to a new film about one of the Navy's diving heroes. Due to open nationwide Nov. 10, "Men of Honor" tells the story of retired Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first African-American to become a Navy diver.
Academy-award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (left) applauds as retired Master Chief Petty Officer Carl M. Brashear, the Navy's first African-American diver, and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen display the Outstanding Public Service Award Cohen presented to Brashear for 42 years of combined military and federal civilian service. Photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Ash, USAF.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Brashear, the son of a Kentucky sharecropper, joined the Navy in 1948, the same year President Harry S. Truman ordered racial integration of the military. He overcame race, origin and, later, the loss of a leg, to become a "master diver."
The movie stars Academy-award winners Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert DeNiro. Gooding plays Brashear and DeNiro appears as Master Chief Billy Sunday, Brashear's hard-edged opponent- turned-mentor. The film portrays their courage, determination and perseverance.
"It's excellent, partly because of its veracity," Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said following the Washington premiere. "It addresses issues that are uncomfortable, like the history of discrimination in the Navy. But it also emphasizes things that are the best about the Navy -- the sense of honor and the ability of people to get ahead within it."
Danzig attended the screening along with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, his wife Janet Langhart Cohen, members of the Navy's diving community and other guests. Cohen hailed the 20th Century Fox production as one of the most inspirational he's seen.
"Carl Brashear will live in the hearts and minds of people the world over as a result of Cuba capturing that indomitable spirit that he has," Cohen said. That same spirit, he noted, "fires the hearts and minds of all who serve in the Navy and every service."
The Navy will be proud to have a star of Gooding's caliber portray the real-life hero, Cohen continued. "I think the Navy will come away from this saying, 'This is what we do. This is who we are every day.' I think everyone's going to come away from this movie truly reflecting about the commitment of all of those who are serving in uniform."
At a reception following the film, Langhart Cohen thanked Brashear for the inspirational story. "What you did made it possible for people like me to do all the things I'm able to do. You are a part of our greatest generation."
Cohen presented the Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Public Service to Brashear for his 42 years of service both as a member of the military and the federal civilian work force. The citation called the retired sailor "an inspiration to all Americans to strive for goals that demand the best of their abilities, to make sacrifices, to put the welfare of others above their own, to dream and to turn those dreams into reality."
The ceremony's formality ended abruptly when, just as Brashear stepped up to the podium, the master of ceremonies announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig."
With Danzig waiting to the side, Brashear stood at the podium and slowly glanced left and right at the audience. The retired master chief then broke into a wide smile and said, "Now that's a promotion!"
He went on to say that he had received numerous awards during his "fabulous" naval career, but receiving an award from the defense secretary had touched his heart.
"I loved the United States Navy in '48 when I joined, and I love the United States Navy today," he said. "I will say, it wasn't a bed of roses, but it was so rewarding. Thank you."
Navy Cmdr. Mark Helmkamp and Master Chief Petty Officer John Schnoering, both from the Navy Diving and Salvage School at Panama City, Fla., presented Brashear with a framed Navy diving certificate. They also made Gooding an honorary diver. Helmkamp is the school commander; Schnoering, the school's senior enlisted sailor, is a machinist's mate and master diver.
"Tonight, we want to pay tribute to you for a truly amazing performance," Cohen said to the actor. "All the Navy divers I've talked to said 'Cuba Gooding Jr. took to the water like a professional,'" Cohen told the audience. Then turning to Gooding, the secretary joked, "You're still young enough to sign up."
"Men of Honor," Cohen said, reminds people just how great the Navy is. The timing of the film's release is particularly poignant, he noted, as it comes in the wake of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 and injured 45, he said.
"Most people do not realize the role the Navy divers played in helping to extract those who were trapped in the Cole and then working around the clock without electricity, power generation, in the dark. With all the chaos, confusion and mayhem they were able to help save that ship."
The secretary reported that FBI officials are making great progress investigating the attack and getting full support from the Yemeni government. "We're hoping they can conclude the investigation as soon as possible so we can hold those responsible accountable and make sure no one ever attacks American sailors, airmen, soldiers, Marines or Coast Guardsmen without paying a penalty for it," he said.
The secretary stressed that service members throughout the armed forces risk their lives daily in the line of duty. He said that over the past two weeks, he'd received word that one pilot had been lost and another was missing off the coast of California.
"What Janet and I have tried to do for four years now is to reconnect America to its military, to see the heroism and the patriotism that is displayed every day," he said. Unfortunately, he noted, it takes a tragedy to remind people that service members put their lives on the line every day.
"We are sleeping safely under this blanket of freedom because of what they do," he stressed. "We want every American to go up and say thank you when they see a man or woman in uniform. Say, 'Thanks for what you do for us. We're allowed to be all that we can be because of what you do.'