Each is the recipient of America’s highest award for civilian heroism – the Carnegie Medal. The following are four stories from the files of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, based in Pittsburgh. They have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Susan T. Brittingham saved Margaret C. O’Leary from drowning in Augusta on June 20, 1916. Miss O’Leary, 18, became distressed in Carmichael Pond, where the water was 11 feet deep. She went beneath the surface twice. Miss Brittingham, 18, who was lighter but not in good physical condition, ran 34 feet, jumped into the water and swam to Miss O’Leary. She reached out to Miss O’Leary; both went beneath the surface. Miss O’Leary grasped Miss Brittingham around the neck with one arm, but they broke away from each other before reaching the surface. Miss Brittingham again grasped Miss O’Leary and swam with her toward the shore. Another woman then took Miss O’Leary to the bank. Miss Brittingham was fatigued and later fainted but suffered no permanent ill effects.
PATRICK H. RICE, JR., 22, saved Lester R. Steckler, 22, from drowning in Spring Hill, Ala., on May 28, 1926. Steckler and Rice were swimming 100 feet from the bank of a lake. Steckler became frightened and grabbed Rice. Both submerged. Rice freed himself with difficulty and rose. Steckler rose and struggled wildly, then sank. Rice let himself down to the bottom, took hold of Steckler at the hips and, standing submerged, pushed him to the surface and toward the bank. He repeated this a number of times and pushed Steckler 95 feet to safety. Steckler, who had become unconscious, was revived.
Davis Dodge rescued Shirley C. Badke from burning in Augusta on Jan. 12, 1995. Ms. Badke, 36, was working in her company’s office building when an airplane crashed, burst into flame and skidded into the building. Flames spread through the reception area. Her clothing aflame, Ms. Badke called for help. Dodge, 46, moved into the hall from his office and saw Ms. Badke. Rather than flee, Dodge ran toward the burning area to reach Ms. Badke. As smoke and flames worsened, he dragged her to the back exit. Ms. Badke required lengthy hospitalization for treatment of extensive third-degree burns. Dodge was hospitalized for treatment of second-degree burns to his head, hands and a leg; he recovered. All four occupants of the plane died.
On July 9, 1955, Richard Mehrhof saved Evelyn Knobloch, 8, and Linda Jo Heher, 10, from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine, Fla., and he attempted to save Dorothy P. Heher, 43. Realizing that all three were in desperate shape, Mehrhof grabbed a life preserver and swam 100 feet to Linda Jo, who took hold of the preserver. Mehrhof then swam 50 feet farther to Mrs. Heher and began towing both women toward shore. Gasping for breath and weakening, Mehrhof was 15 feet from the breaker line when he noticed Evelyn and another life preserver floating nearby.
Without releasing his hold on Mrs. Heher or the first preserver, he lifted Evelyn onto the second preserver and towed all three toward the shore. With extreme effort and suffering chest pain, he reached the breaker line, where a wave carried all four people close to shore. Others helped take Mrs. Heher, Linda Jo and Evelyn ashore. Linda Jo suffered no ill effects. Evelyn was revived and
recovered. Mrs. Heher could not be revived. Today, Dick Mehrhof and much of his family live in Augusta.
INTERESTED IN more information on the Carnegie Medal? Please check the web site of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission: carnegiehero.org. The book A Century of Heroes is highly recommended. It includes a fascinating chapter that explains the motivations that cause people to act heroically.
Each January, the Carnegie Medal and the Medal of Honor are highlighted at the Augusta Museum of History when the heroism of A. J. Dyess is remembered. Three extraordinary individuals will receive the Distinguished American Award at the fourth annual Jimmie Dyess Symposium. To be honored on Jan. 9, 2014, will be Medal of Honor recipient Al Rascon, who will visit Augusta from his home in Maryland, and two Augusta residents, Ann Boardman and Dick Daniel. The event is at 5 p.m., and admission is free. It is a great opportunity to meet and salute three people who have devoted much of their lives to helping others. Questions on the symposium? Call the museum – (706) 722-8454.
(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – is the co-author, with Jeff Foley, of Rules and Tools for Leaders. The revised and updated fourth edition of this book will be released to the public Aug. 6.)