Men of Honor: Story of Carl Brashear - OUT OF BLOOD AND GAS

OUT OF BLOOD AND GAS (Illustration) Film Biographies African American History Medicine STEM Tragedies and Triumphs

In 1966, following a terrible accident aboard the USS Hoist, Carl Brashear was treated at the U.S. Air Force Hospital at Torrejon Air Base near Madrid, Spain. This image depicts how that hospital appeared, circa 1960.  Photo by Joe Hicks; copyright, Joe Hicks, all rights reserved.  Image provided here as fair use for educational purposes.


When the crew on board the Hoist realized how badly Carl was injured, they sent the bomb back to the bottom of the sea. Treating Carl became their top priority.

Since there was no doctor on board ship, and Carl was bleeding profusely, he had to be airlifted off the Hoist. The plan was to take him by helicopter to Torrejon Air Base, in Spain, after a corpsman (whose name Carl no longer remembers) applied a life-saving tourniquet.

In the confusion following Carl’s injury, the helicopter was not refueled. As Carl was running out of blood, the helicopter was running out of fuel. It was forced to land some distance from Torrejon’s hospital.

By the time Carl finally received proper medical attention, it was about 9 p.m. He had been bleeding for hours.

The doctor at Torrejon thought Carl had died.  Before sending what he believed was a dead body to the morgue, the examining physician checked for a heartbeat one last time. There was a faint one. 

Instead of going to the pathology table, Carl went to the operating table where he received about 18 pints of blood. (The average human body contains about 12 pints.)

In the meantime, with the use of a Cable-Controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV), the Navy was able to retrieve the missing bomb. It was brought aboard the USS Petrel on April 7, 1966, its parachute still attached. 

The crew immediately saw the bomb had been damaged. Fortunately, no lives had been lost as a result of any of the bombs - including the damaged “Robert” (also known as bomb #4).

Carl Brashear’s life had also been spared, but his leg would not be. Following two months of fighting infection and gangrene, Carl told his doctors he could not spend three years in the hospital while his left leg (which would be considerably shorter than his right leg) healed.

He made a decision to have the doctors amputate.  He thought it was the only way to save his Navy career.

After four guillotine-type surgeries, where more of his leg was cut off each time, Carl was left with a below-the-knee stump. He received his first prosthetic leg in November. 

His plan was to go back to work. The Navy’s plan was to retire him from active duty.  The discharge process had already begun.

Disregarding hospital rules, Carl Brashear needed a little help from some friends to pull off his plan.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Nov 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: Nov 10, 2015

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"OUT OF BLOOD AND GAS" AwesomeStories.com. Nov 01, 2000. Mar 19, 2019.
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