PORTSMOUTH, Va., July 27 (UPI) -- Carl Maxie Brashear, the Kentucky sharecropper's son who battled racism to become the U.S. Navy's first black diver, has died.
Brashear, 75, succumbed to respiratory and heart failure on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In addition to being the Navy's first black diver, Brashear was the first black and the first amputee to achieve the rank of Navy Master Diver. He lost a leg in 1966 in an accident while on a team working to retrieve a nuclear bomb lost off the coast of Spain.
Cuba Gooding Jr., who portrayed Brashear in the 2000 movie "Men of Honor," told the Times that Brashear was "the strongest man I ever met."
"He is a symbol of inspiration ... a true example of greatness not only to the African American community but to any race today that aims to achieve in the military," Gooding said.
Brashear joined the Navy in 1948, the year President Truman ordered the integration of the military. To become a diver, Brashear had to fight the Navy attitude that blacks should be limited to housekeeping jobs, meet demanding physical requirements and overcome his lack of formal education -- he was a seventh-grade dropout -- to pass written tests.