The US Navy's First Black Diver

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Akimbo

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Most of us know of Master Chief Carl Brashear from the movie Men of Honor. The film left a lot of people with the impression that Chief Brashear was the US Navy's first black diver and the first black Master Diver. This was close enough for Hollywood but isn't precisely correct. Those credits likely go to Chief Gunner's Mate John Turpin, but there are caveats as seen from today's perspective.

John Turpin was probably the first black man to be qualified as a US Navy diver, though I haven't been able to nail down exactly when. We know it was before 1915. To be more precise, Carl Brashear was the first black man to attend and graduate from the Diving & Salvage School. The US Navy didn't have a formal diving school when John Turpin qualified as a diver, which is also why records are hard to come by. The exact details are unclear but diver training was an on-the-job process before the first diving school was established at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Chief Warrant Officer George D. Stillson was assigned to establish diving standards for the US Navy in 1912. There was no diving manual, standardized equipment, or decompression tables — let alone a diving school (still looking for the exact date).

John Turpin was a diver on the salvage of the submarine USS F-4 in 1915. He was also one of, if not the first black man to attain the enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer. He was the first black US Navy Master Diver, but was a civilian instead of on active duty.

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Chief Brashear was the first black Master Diver as we know them today. He earned his pin in 1970 from the US Navy Diving and Salvage School in Washington DC.

I was a newly minted Second Class Diver and remember reading about him in Faceplate Magazine.

Both were extraordinarily accomplished men who excelled decades apart. The fact that they did it all in spite of racism only adds to achievements that any diver would be proud of.

John Henry Turpin was born on 20 August 1876 and died on 10 March 1962 at the age of 85. Carl Maxie Brashear was born on 19 January 1931 and died on 25 July 2006 at the age of 75. The US military was not desegregated until 1948, four months after Carl Brashear enlisted.

I have not found any indication that these men actually met, but I would fight to the head of that line to buy the beers so I could listen to their sea stories.
 

wnissen

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John Henry Turpin was born on 20 August 1876 and died on 10 March 1962 at the age of 85. Carl Maxie Brashear was born on 19 January 1931 and died on 25 July 2006 at the age of 75. The US military was not desegregated until 1948, four months after Carl Brashear enlisted.

I have not found any indication that these men actually met, but I would fight to the head of that line to buy the beers so I could listen to their sea stories.
You would be right that Chief Brashear was a compelling storyteller in person. I had the privilege to listen to a talk he gave, and while a decent amount of the movie was fictionalized (unfortunately in a negative way toward his real-life wife), the basics of the story are absolutely as true and stunning as you would hope. He did talk about one incident from his childhood that wasn't in the movie. He and his fellow young cousins were running around the yard and making a general ruckus when they were kids. His grandmother looked disapprovingly at the rowdy group, and took Carl aside. She chastised him for misbehaving, telling him "You can't behave like that, they look up to you!" After she died, they were all sharing memories, and it came out that she had said the same thing to every single cousin at one time or another. Quite a way to instill a sense of responsibility.
 

Pressurehead

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Chief petty officers are experts at that. Master Divers are even better. I can’t count the number of life lessons I learned from them, or colorful phrases.
Like : " It's not hot or cold, it is either character building or invigorating ".
" what! You want to go the birth of your child, in my day the women had the babies, now .... off".
" And if you were meant to have a wife you would have been issued with one".
And it goes on and on.
 

JMBL

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Thank you Akimbo for a nice lesson in history. Who be glad to hear some more about John Turpin.
 

WeRtheOcean

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Whenever there were divers down, the waterfront would get the announcement not to activate sonar. There are certain scheduled maintenance procedures which would involve activating sonar in-port, so the announcement was to ensure that we not do them until dive operations secured. This was for the safety of the divers, as sonar noise is dangerous to them.

But no, it doesn't hurt whales or dolphins :rolleyes::shakehead:
 

JMBL

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Whenever there were divers down, the waterfront would get the announcement not to activate sonar. There are certain scheduled maintenance procedures which would involve activating sonar in-port, so the announcement was to ensure that we not do them until dive operations secured. This was for the safety of the divers, as sonar noise is dangerous to them.
If I remember correctly, there's a whole appendix or chapter upon the subject in the US Navy diving manual.
But no, it doesn't hurt whales or dolphins :rolleyes::shakehead:
First time I heard about it, was in the 70's as a kid...I fear mankind never learns... :banghead:
 
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Akimbo

Akimbo

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There are certain scheduled maintenance procedures which would involve activating sonar in-port, so the announcement was to ensure that we not do them until dive operations secured. This was for the safety of the divers, as sonar noise is dangerous to them.

Active sonar can be, but distance matters a great deal. The effects in harbors are also harder to anticipate than in open sea. It is a risk to divers anytime a lot of energy is released into the water, but of course energy is rapidly disbursed by the water.

We also had a safe distance we had to be clear of from the degaussing station when diving. Of course it was much shorter than active sonar because the energy is directed toward the vessel instead of outward and water doesn't conduct magnetic energy as readily as acoustic.

Fortunately, marine mammals are at very low risk because the probability of them being close enough to active sonar is very low. They will change course from sounds that are loud enough to bother them and ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) ships running active sonar are moving relatively fast.

Of course whales can be close enough to a ship when it turns on the active sonar but it is not very likely because of the speed they travel and other noise they make. Whales are at far greater risk from ship collisions, especially ones that are traveling slower (slower turning screws) and solo than typical ASW ships.
 

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