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CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — It was a bright and sunny day on Guam on Jan. 29, 2006, and danger was the last thing on Lance Cpl. Kenneth O. Kelly’s mind as he and his section ran along the beach for physical training.

His unit, Battalion Landing Team 2/5, part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, was deployed to the island for training exercises.

And it was Kelly’s training that kicked into action when his section ran into a cove on Haputu Beach, said Kelly, 22, now a sergeant.

Kelly heard distressed cries for help from three Marines who were about 200 yards from shore. A rip current was rapidly pulling them farther from the beach.

Kelly had recently completed a combat water safety swimmer course, so “I just jumped in,” he said.

The idea that he might be placing himself in danger never crossed his mind.

“I just wanted to get them out. I just wanted to get them to safety,” said Kelly, a Rockwall, Texas, native, currently attached to Battalion Landing Team 2/1 with the 31st MEU based at Camp Schwab.

When he reached the three swimmers, he could see a little blood in the water. Two were unharmed but “were in a state of panic,” he said.

The third was bleeding.

“He had bumped up against the reefs and cut up his legs and feet pretty bad,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he told the two uninjured Marines to interlock their arms and swim diagonally for about 20 yards across the rip current and head for a portion of reef that stood out of the water. He then grabbed the injured Marine in a wrist lock to keep his face out of the water and towed him to the reef.

Kelly charted a path to the shore and had the two uninjured Marines swim for it. He again took the injured Marine in a wrist lock and pulled him the 200 yards to shore, where one of the Marines in his section ran to a nearby rifle range to radio for medical assistance.

The whole experience took only about 15 minutes.

“Those 15 minutes epitomize who [Kelly] is as a whole: his decisiveness, his selflessness,” said his platoon commander, 1st Lt. Kevin Spring, who has known him since August 2006.

Typically you hear stories with three victims and a would-be rescuer who becomes a fourth victim, Spring said, adding that it’s a testament to Kelly’s physical capability and presence of mind that he was able to do what he did.

Though he doesn’t know their names, Kelly later learned the three he saved were reconnaissance Marines.

For his actions, Kelly was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal in a ceremony Friday at the Camp Hansen Theater. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the second-highest noncombatant medal Marines and sailors can receive.

Receiving the award, he said, actually made him more nervous than jumping into that cove almost two years ago.


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