News: Five Cherry Point Marines selflessly save couple on Memorial Day
Story by Lance Cpl. S.T. Stewart
ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. – When a group of Marines took a trip to Fort Macon Park in Atlantic Beach, N.C., to enjoy the sun and relax over the Memorial Day holiday, they had no clue they would soon find themselves fighting to save the lives of two strangers.
Editor's note: At their request, the names of the couple have been withheld to put the focus of the story on the Marines and their heroic actions.
A husband and wife, of Greenville, N.C., along with their two daughters had the same plan as the five Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., but, while wading in waist-deep water less than 50 yards from the shore, their plans took a perilous turn.
The wife described that day as “horrific” in a letter she and her husband wrote to the Marines’ commanding officers. She recalled in the letter how quickly her feet were swept off the sand bar beneath her as she was taken away from her husband by a powerful rip current.
In that small window of time she saw a group of men in the water about 20 yards away. At that moment she didn’t know the would-be heroes were United States Marines.
As she was carried out to sea, the only thing she could think to do was pray to God for help.
“God sent the Marines,” said the husband.
Marines are known as an amphibious force of readiness, capable of quickly responding to any situation around the world.
On this particular day, the Marines responded within seconds.
As the five Marines played in the water, Sgt. Michael F. Spina, a flight equipment technician with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, stopped suddenly and told the Marines to be quiet.
“I thought I heard someone yelling, but the wind and the waves made it hard to hear,” said Spina. A few seconds later all the Marines heard a man yell for help.
Spina and Sgt. Anthony L. Wilson, a technical controller with Cherry Point's Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, were the first to see the man in the water. Unsure if he was in danger, Spina gave an inquiring thumbs-up to see if the man needed help.
He responded with a thumbs-down. With that single gesture all five Marines started swimming toward him.
When they reached the husband he was exhausted, out of breath and demanding with any words he could muster for them to leave him and go help his wife.
“At first we all thought he was delirious, because he was alone in the water,” said Wilson. But as that thought crossed Wilson’s mind, he noticed a body floating about 20 yards away and pointed it out to the other Marines.
It was the man's wife, and they immediately thought the worst as she wasn’t moving.
Wilson and Pfc. Roger Archer, a tactical data systems administrator with Marine Air Control Squadron 2, stayed with the husband while three other Marines swam to his wife.
The first Marine she remembers seeing was Spina. He dove under the water and propelled her toward the shoreline.
Seconds later she saw a second Marine just as she felt her feet touch sand.
She reached out her hand and lance corporals Anthony Guzman, a helicopter mechanic with HMLA-467, and Wesley N. Edwards, an aircraft crew chief with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, pulled her onto dry land.
Yet with the wife safe, her husband was still in the water struggling against the force of the waves.
Spina swam back to assist Wilson with rescuing the husband because Archer, completely exhausted, had to return to shore.
The husband has broken memories of Wilson encouraging him to keep going and to not give up. Wilson recalls every second.
“Many times I thought we weren’t going to make it,” said Wilson. “Every time I had that thought, I would remember that I made a promise to this man that he would not drown, and that promise is what kept me going.”
Guzman ran to the lifeguards as soon as the wife was safe and two lifeguards followed him back to the scene to assist the Marines.
Wilson finally had to swim back to shore due to his lack of energy, but he wasn’t done fighting yet.
“It took me what seemed like ten minutes to get back, but in reality it probably took about two minutes,” said Wilson.
Physically spent, Wilson stayed mentally sharp and immediately ordered Wesley and Guzman to empty and seal all available liquid containers and put them in a backpack to create a makeshift flotation device. But they never used it.
The man was safely rescued from the water by the combined efforts of two lifeguards, Spina, and a surfer who used his board as a floatation device to get him to shore.
The paramedics transported the husband to the hospital, and he was released later that night. Doctors said he suffered dehydration and stomach sickness from taking in too much sea water.
After the unforeseen incident the family is safe and grateful for the Marines’ willingness to put their lives in harm’s way to save the lives of two strangers.
The wife explained her appreciation best in the letter to the Marines’ leaders.
“My husband and I would not be alive if it were not for these five men and the courage and bravery they displayed without thought of their own welfare,” she said. “We can never repay these Marines for what they did.”