Men of Honor

Produced by Fox 2000 Pictures and State Street Pictures, released Nov. 9, 2000, by 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, 35mm widescreen 2.35:1 ratio, Deluxe color, Dolby Digital sound, 128 mins.

photo from IMDb


photo from IMDb - trailer



The film is based on the true story of Navy diver Carl Brashear who was born on a sharecropper's farm in Kentucky, joined the Navy in 1948 when President Truman desegregated the military, started as a ship steward, endured discrimination to graduate from diving school as the first black Navy diver, lost his leg in the recovery of a nuclear bomb off Palomares in 1966, became the first amputee Navy diver in 1968 and was promoted to master diver in 1970, retired in 1979 and is currently living in Virginia City, VA. Although the Billy Sunday and the other characters are fictional, the film provides an accurate historical context for the struggle of an African American sailor in the post-war Navy. There are brief references to the Battle of Leyte Gulf (that took place in October 1944, not in 1943 as announced by the radio in young Carl's sharecropper cabin at the beginning of the film). It shows the Quonset hut construction of the Bayonne dive school (a reconstruction built and filmed along the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon, not in New Jersey), the reality of diving with the Mark V suit (and the requirement to walk 12 steps in the new suit), the scenes of Carl as a ship cook, and his accident in 1966 on the salvage ship USS Hoist (filmed with full cooperation of the Navy on the USS Navaho in Long Beach CA).

According to Brashear's Reminiscences he originally wanted to join the Army at age 17 due to his brother-in-law, but instead went into the Navy and boot camp at Great Lakes in Feb. 1948, before Truman's July 1948 desegregation order. He developed his abilities at swimming when serving at the seaplane base in Key West, and dispelled the myth that blacks could not swim. At the Bayonne salvage diving school in 1954, he endured discrimination and racist notes left for him that warned "we're going to drown you," but he never flunked any exam, never studied in the public library with a future doctor wife (he married his first wife in 1952 and she went to beauty school in New York to become a cosmetologist) and graduated 16 out of a class of 17. The film ignores the events in Brashear's life following his graduation until his 1966 accident. He served on the USS Tripoli salvage ship and was named "sailor of the year" after promotion to a second-class petty officer 1951-1954. He made his first-class rank in 1955, was an escort for the presidential yacht Barbara Ann when Eisenhower came to Newport to play golf in 1957. He took the exam in 1959 and became chief petty officer while stationed in Guam. His greatest ambition was to make master diver, and although he flunked out of his first attempt to pass the first-class diver school (due to the math, not racism), he returned in 1965 and completed the full 26-week course to graduate 3 out of a class of 17. The accident in 1966 on the USS Hoist recovering the Palomares bomb was far worse than protrayed in the film. He almost died from loss of blood, from the delay in getting to a hospital, and from gangrene. His leg was amputated in two operations because of infection, and it was after the amputation that he read of the Canadian Air Force pilot who returned to flying with two prostheic legs. It was then that he decided he could dive again. With the help of Chief Petty Officers Clair Axtell and Raymond Duell, he re-qualified as a Navy diver and proved his capablilities to the Navy Bureau of Medicine. He finally achieved his ambition in 1970 when he successfully completed the master diver school without making a single mistake. His father died in 1974, not when he was in school as shown in the film. He was one of only 59 master divers in the Navy when he retired in 1979. The film ignores the alcoholism that ruined his first marriage, the four sons from this 21-year marriage, his successful recovery in the Navy rehabilitiation program in 1978, his second marriage to a Navy nurse from 1980-83, and his remarkable career after retirement as a civilian consultant and energy conservation specialist. Yet the film accurately portrays the ability of one man to overcome the racial discrimination that existed in the Navy, and according to Brashear's account, still exists today.


Filmnotes | revised 11/24/00 by Schoenherr