USS Kitty Hawk sailor honored for risking his life to save Japanese man
Stars and Stripes
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Japanese train stations chime a little tune when a train is about to arrive. On the morning of April 8, that was the last thing Seaman Phillip Simmons wanted to hear.
The USS Kitty Hawk sailor was on the tracks with an injured leg — the result of hopping off the platform to rescue a Japanese man who had fallen seconds before. Simmons pulled the man out and handed him over to waiting Japanese bystanders, but his injury kept him from climbing out on his own.
Then he heard the music.
"I thought, ‘Not today,’ " said Simmons, recalling that mortal moment after receiving an award Monday for risking his life to save another.
"I wasn’t thinking about anything when I jumped in there (after him)," Simmons said. "When I heard the music, I knew the time was running out. My heart was pounding — like it was just about to blow up."
Grabbing the hands of helpful bystanders, he rolled onto the platform 10 seconds before the train blasted into the station.
Now, a month later, Simmons said he "feels normal" but people ask him for his autograph and call him a "hero."
"I’m from the country — I like to keep it simple," said Simmons, 22. He works as a barber on the Yokosuka-based aircraft carrier.
At Monday’s ceremony on the flight deck, Simmons accepted a number of plaques and awards — in Japanese and English — from Kazuyuki Harada, director of the Keihin Electric Express Train Company’s Planning and Business Department, who called his deeds "a truly heroic act."
Simmons, a native of Moss Point, Miss., a town of 18,000 people that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, bowed deeply and said he "appreciated everything" that had been done for him in Japan.
Simmons is "too modest," said Kitty Hawk commander Capt. Todd Zecchin.
"He exemplifies the highest caliber of honor, courage and commitment," Zecchin added. "To risk one’s life for the safety of another human being … I am proud to be your shipmate."
Simmons was "running late for work" April 8 and waiting for a train at Yokosuka’s Kenritsu Daigaku station when he saw a Japanese man start to shake uncontrollably, as if having a seizure, Simmons said.
Another bystander tried to grab the man before he fell off the platform but missed, Simmons said. Simmons then jumped down, alone, onto the tracks and handed the man up to waiting hands.
But Simmons’s role in the rescue wasn’t finished. Recognizing the seizure from experience with others, Simmons borrowed a pen to put in the man’s mouth to keep him from choking. He also helped hold onto the man — who tried to run away — until medical help arrived.
Needless to say, Simmons was really late to work, he said.
"I told my chief, ‘Hey, I saved a Japanese person’s life today,’ and he was like ‘Yes, but did you shave?’ "
Simmons said that was about the only other person he told about the rescue.
His friends said he never told them anything about it; colleagues said they read about the rescue in the ship’s newsletter.
"He wasn’t bragging; we heard about it from other people," said Seaman Apprentice Timothy Champion. "I think he did a really great thing."