Marines receive heroism honors for pulling family from riptide
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 29, 2020
Four Marines who saved a woman and her two daughters from a dangerous riptide over Father’s Day weekend in 2018 were recognized Jan. 28 for their heroism.
Cpl. Austin McMullen, Cpl. Timothy R. Watson, Sgt. Anders K. Larson and Staff Sgt. Leary K. Reichartwarfel each received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal in a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., for putting their own lives in danger to save Ali Joy and her twin girls.
The Marines had been enjoying a day at North Carolina’s Atlantic Beach on June 15, 2018, when a woman came up and “told us that she thought that there was somebody out in the water that needed help,” recalled McMullen in a Marine Corps video. “I just remember the only thing that I said was, ‘Where?’”
McMullen swam 150 yards through dangerous surf to reach Ali Joy and her two 7-year-old daughters, said a citation read during the ceremony. Two Marines stabilized the mother and girls on a surfboard, saving them from drowning, another citation said.
The rescuers also pulled the father of the family, 48-year-old Charles Joy Jr., out of the water, but he later died in a hospital, the Carteret County News-Times reported.
Ali Joy and her husband had run into the water after noticing the girls were being pulled too far out into the ocean, the mother said in a Marine Corps statement about a month after the incident.
“I got out to the girls and I couldn’t touch (the bottom), the waves were breaking over us,” she said. “My girls were panicking, and I was having trouble staying afloat.”
When the Marines reached them, one of them shouted to “float on our back,” Ali Joy recalled.
After the incident, she started a foundation called Float Don’t Fight, aimed at educating people on how to survive a rip currents and tides or help someone caught in them.
“The human instinct is to fight, to struggle, but you need to float,” she was quoted saying in the 2018 Marine statement.
Weeks later, the family still didn’t know who the Marines were who saved them, but they contacted Camp Lejeune, which posted a message on Facebook seeking those involved.
Ali Joy was able to thank her rescuers last August during a national lifeguard competition in Virginia Beach, Va., where three of them were recognized for their heroism. “They did not think twice about risking their lives,” she said on local TV.
The military award they received this week is the Navy’s “highest peacetime decoration for heroism,” Maj. Gen. Karsten Heckl, commander of the Cherry Point-based 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said during the ceremony.
While it isn’t solely awarded for actions that involve saving a life, when it is, “the action must have been performed at the risk of one’s own life,” eligibility requirements state.
The award “means more than the individual receiving it,” McMullen said. “I’m humbly honored to be a part of something that can reach the eyes and the ears of other people and maybe serve as an inspiration.”
Maj. Gen. Karsten Heckl, second from left, commanding general, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, presents Cpl. Timothy Watson with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., January 28, 2020. Watson along with Staff Sgt. Leary Reichartwarfel, Sgt. Anders Larson and Cpl. Austin McMullen received the award for saving a family at Atlantic Beach, N.C., in 2018.
WILLIAM L. HOLDAWAY/U.S. MARINE CORPS