Friends, family and former co-workers gathered at the Mayport Chief Petty Officer's Mess to celebrate a book launch honoring the late Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Sherman Byrd, the first African American Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician. Cynthia Byrd Conner, Byrd's youngest daughter and recently retired civil servant from Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC), worked on the project for many years.
Conner and her siblings weren't aware of their father's distinctions and accomplishments because he tended to keep his experiences to himself, and he passed away at the age of 40, when Conner was just 14-years old. More than three decades later, a representative from an EOD training facility tracked down the Byrd family so he could invite them to a dedication to their father.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training and Evaluation Unit 2 dedicated a plaque in honor of Byrd in 2009, for breaking the color barrier in 1958 to join an elite group of EOD technicians that can disarm an explosive anywhere and at any time.
"The dedication ceremony was so beautiful, and they all spoke so highly of dad," Conner said. "He meant a lot to a lot of people."
While researching the book, Conner spoke with Carl Brashear, who became famous after the Cuba Gooding, Jr. role in the "Men of Honor" movie. "He called to offer support and encouragement, and told me he never told the writers or movie producers that he was the first African American EOD, only he was the first African American to achieve the Master Diver recognition, as well as being the first amputee Master Diver. "Many people believe Carl Brashear was the first African American in the EOD community, but it was Dad, Sherman Byrd," said Conner.
With only an eighth grade education, (the highest level of education available to African Americans at that time), Byrd served on 10 ships, served during Korea and Vietnam, and supported the Secret Service by protecting four Presidents of the United States.
The book also deals with some tough issues like drug and alcohol abuse. "Quiet Strong is geared toward the teenage demographic or anyone who has taken a wrong turn in life," Conner said.
All proceeds from the sale of the book benefitted the Mayport Chief Petty Officer's Association.
Mayport Civilian Tells Story Of Barrier-Breaking EODC Father