I'm not a guy who cries easily, but while reading this chapter several weeks after writing the story about the rescue of a mother and four children my eyes watered up and I had to choke back a full emotional event. The same thing happened when I wrote the story. This particular rescue touched me deeper than is justified by the event. Its natural to become invested in the search for a mother and young children, but to get so choked up over it forty years later seems overboard.
At the time I'd had no experience with children. I'd never considered having kids, though I'd not been against it. I'd just never thought about children. They weren't on my radar. But during that night's search on the dark water I thought of nothing else but these four children and their mother. That night they became my world. I could not envision a scenario where we didn't find them alive. When we finally found them and brought them to the safety of our boat I felt deep satisfaction, something I had not experienced at the time. For the first time I understood the deep pride that comes from being involved with something bigger than myself. That night on the water I became a man.
The twelve-year old boy we rescued became a man that night too. His courage, cunning and control would have made any man proud. We plucked them out of the water, but he was the one that saved his family. After his two sisters were safely on the boat he still refused to leave the dingy until his mom and baby were safe. When it was mom's turn I asked her to hand me her baby. She refused, saying she'd carry the baby across. I knew that wouldn't be safe because I couldn't pick her out of their boat with one hand, so she would have to use her hands to help me. Something she couldn't do while holding the baby. Dropping the baby would be a disaster, so I begged her to give me the infant. The mom wasn't in complete control of herself, but she was sure about not handing her baby to a stranger. It was still a very dangerous situation for the older boy, baby and mom, so we had to do something. I looked at the oldest boy for help. He told his mom to give me the baby (he used the baby's name but I don't recall it). When his mom hesitated he said, "Do it now, mom." Without further hesitation she handed her baby to me. With the baby in front of me I froze, uncertain for the first time.
I didn't know how to properly handle a baby, but I really didn't know how to do so one-handed. If I let go with my other hand I'd fall in the water and likely take the survivors in the small boat with me. The boy saw my hesitation and somehow figured out my predicament. He said, "Grab her by the leg. It'll be okay. It wont hurt her." Trusting he knew what he was talking about I grabbed the baby by the leg and passed her upside-down to Donald Ball who waited behind me. Don, who had kids of his own knew what to do with a baby, took her below to the warm cabin where her two sisters sat huddled up and crying.
We reunited the family at a private marina just before day break. The husband/father, overpowered with the joy of having his family back, thanked us for saving them. He called us heroes. But Donald Ball spoke for all of us when he told the dad that his son was the real hero of this night.
None of us received awards for this Search and Rescue, nor did we expect one because what we did was not above and beyond our duty. It was a special rescue for us because children were at risk. Yet officially it was just another SAR, something the men and women of the United States Coast Guard do all the time. I did not serve the Coast Guard well, but that night I did my job. Somewhere deep in my soul I believe its all that mattered.
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