Men of Honor (released in the UK and Ireland as Men of Honour) is a 2000 American drama film, starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.
It is inspired by the true story of Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first African American master diver in the United States Navy.
Carl Brashear leaves his native Kentucky and the life of a sharecropper in 1948 by joining the United States Navy. As a crew member of the salvage ship USS Hoist, where he is assigned to the galley, he is inspired by the bravery of one of the divers, Master Chief Petty Officer Leslie William “Billy” Sunday. He is determined to overcome racism and become the first black American Navy diver, even proclaiming that he will become a master diver. He eventually is selected to attend Diving and Salvage School in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he arrives as a boatswain’s mate second class. He finds that Master Chief Sunday is the leading chief petty officer and head instructor, who is under orders from the school’s eccentric, bigoted commanding officer to ensure that Brashear fails.
Brashear struggles to overcome his educational shortcomings, a result of his leaving school in grade 7 in order to work on his family’s failing farm. He receives educational assistance from his future wife, a medical student who works part-time in the New York Public Library in Harlem. Brashear proves himself as a diver by rescuing a fellow student whose dive buddy abandons him during a salvage evaluation. Unfortunately, due to the racism of the commanding officer, the student who fled in the face of danger is awarded a medal for Brashear’s heroic actions. Likewise, during an underwater assembling task where each student has to assemble a flange underwater using a bag of tools, Brashear’s bag is cut open on purpose. Brashear nevertheless finishes the assembly and graduates from diving school, earning the quiet and suppressed admiration of Sunday and his fellow divers. Sunday is later demoted to senior chief by the commanding officer for standing up for Brashear and allowing him to pass.
The paths and careers of Brashear and Sunday diverge. Brashear rises quickly through the ranks, even becoming a national hero in the 1966 Palomares incident for recovering a missing hydrogen bomb and for saving the life of Navy crew. Sunday continually loses his composure around officers who disrespect his accomplishments, until he is finally demoted to chief petty officer and relegated to menial duties. He becomes a brooding alcoholic displeased with his lowered rank.
The two eventually meet again after Brashear’s left leg was so mangled in the Palomares incident that he feels that his only chance to return to active duty and a relatively normal life is for the leg to be amputated and replaced with a prosthesis. Until this time, no Navy man had ever returned to full active duty with a prosthetic limb. Sunday again trains Brashear and aids him in his fight against the Navy’s bureaucracy and an antagonistic Navy captain (Brashear’s and Sunday’s former Hoist executive officer) in order to return to full active duty and fulfill his dream of becoming a master diver. They succeed in getting Brashear reinstated.
In the epilogue, it is noted that two years later Brashear becomes a master diver. It is added that he does not retire from the Navy for another nine years.
Carl Maxie Brashear (19 January 1931 to 25 July 2006) was a highly decorated United States Navy sailor. He was a US Navy master diver, rising to the position in 1970, despite having his left leg amputated in 1966. The film Men of Honour was based on his life.
- Brashear enlisted in the US Navy on 25 February 1948, shortly after the Navy had been desegregated by US President Harry S. Truman.
- He graduated from the US Navy Diving & Salvage School in 1954, becoming the first African-American to attend and graduate from the Diving & Salvage School and the first African-American US Navy Diver.
- While attending diving school in Bayonne, New Jersey, Brashear faced hostility and racism.
- He found notes on his bunk saying, “We’re going to drown you today, nigger!” and “We don’t want any nigger divers.”
- Brashear received encouragement to finish from Boatswain’s Mate First Class Rutherford, and graduated 16 out of 17.
- Brashear was assigned to escort the presidential yacht the Barbara Anne to Rhode Island.
- He met President Eisenhower and received a small knife that said, “To Carl M. Brashear. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957. Many, many thanks.”
- In January 1966, in an accident now known as the Palomares incident, a B28 nuclear bomb was lost off the coast of Palomares, Spain, after two United States Air Force aircraft of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), a B-52G Stratofortress bomber and a KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refuelling aircraft, collided during aerial refuelling.
- Brashear was serving aboard USS Hoist (ARS-40) when it was dispatched to find and recover the missing bomb for the Air Force.
- The warhead was found after two and a half months of searching.
- For his service in helping to retrieve the bomb, Brashear was later awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal – the highest Navy award for non-combat heroism.
- During the bomb recovery operations on 23 March 23, 1966, a line used for towing broke loose, causing a pipe to strike Brashear’s left leg below the knee, nearly shearing it off.
- He was evacuated to Torrejon Air Base in Spain, then to the USAF Hospital at Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany; and finally to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
- Beset with persistent infection and necrosis, his lower left leg was eventually amputated.
- Brashear remained at the Naval Regional Medical Centre in Portsmouth from May 1966 until March 1967 recovering and rehabilitating from the amputation.
- From March 1967 to March 1968, Brashear was assigned to the Harbor Clearance Unit Two, Diving School, preparing for return to full active duty and diving.
- In April 1968, after a long struggle, Brashear was the first amputee diver to be recertified as a US Navy diver.
- In 1970, he became the first African-American US Navy master diver, and served nine more years beyond that, achieving the rating of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate (MCBM) in 1971.
- BMCM (MDV) Brashear retired from the US Navy on 01 April 1979, as a Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9) and Master Diver.
- He then served as a civilian employee for the government at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia, and retired in 1993 with the grade of GS-11.
- Robert De Niro as Master Chief Leslie ‘Billy’ Sunday.
- Cuba Gooding Jr. as Boatswain’s Mate Second Class (later Master Diver) Carl Brashear.
- Chris Warren Jr. as Young Carl.
- Charlize Theron as Gwen Sunday.
- Aunjanue Ellis as Jo Brashear.
- Hal Holbrook as Camp commanding officer “Mr. Pappy” Captain USN.
- Michael Rapaport as Gunners Mate Snowhill, Brashear’s barracks mate and a stutterer.
- Powers Boothe as Captain Pullman.
- David Keith as Captain Hartigan.
- Holt McCallany as Machinist’s Mate First Class Dylan Rourke.
- David Conrad as Captain Hanks.
- Joshua Leonard as Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Douglas Isert.
- Carl Lumbly as Mac Brashear – Carl’s father.
- Lonette McKee as Ella Brashear – Carl’s mother.
- Glynn Turman as Chief Floyd.
- Joshua Feinman as DuBoyce.
- The film features the classic US Navy Mark V diving equipment used by the Navy from 1915 until 1985.
- It is rare to see this equipment used in motion pictures. The equipment was custom made by DESCO, who manufactured the gear for the Navy along with three other makers.
- The helmets used were actually commercial helmets (which have larger glass windows or “lights”) on Navy breast plates, allowing greater visibility of the actors.
- The divers wore equipment weighing about 200 pounds (91 kg).
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): George Tillman Jr.
- Producer(s): Bill Badalato and Robert Teitel.
- Writer(s): Scott Marshall Smith.
- Music: Mark Islam.
- Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond.
- Editor(s): John Carter and Dirk Westervelt.
- Production: Fox 2000 Pictures and State Street Pictures.
- Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox.
- Release Date: 10 November 2000.
- Running Time: 129 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.