In March of 2018, a car skidded off Route 17 in Maine down an embankment, crashing through an icy pond below.
Navy Diver Third Class Thomas Parhiala and Navy Diver Third Class John McLeod happened to be driving on the same road on the way back from a trip to pick up a motorcycle.
“Coming the opposite direction about 400 meters away was a vehicle,” said Parhiala, of Salem, New Hampshire. “I noticed a big plume of dust come off the road and a big splash and then saw a car bobbing in the lake.”
Parhiala, 22, and McLeod, 26, jumped into the icy waters of Chickawausee Pond to help, dragging the unconscious driver to shore and performing CPR until first responders arrived. The driver survived the crash.
“In my eyes I think that if anyone else with the kind of training we have was there they would have done the exact same thing,” said McLeod, of Wiscasset, Maine.
For their quick, life-saving actions the two divers, who are stationed in Groton, were presented the Navy and Marines Award at a ceremony Wednesday on the base. The decoration is the highest non-combat medal for heroism. John F. Kennedy received the medal in 1944.
“Part of being a chief is taking care of your guys and when they do something cool like that you want to make sure they get recognized for it,” said Navy Chief Diver Overton Pierce.
As one of their instructors, Pierce believes the two embody all that the medal stands for, but if you ask Parhiala and McLeod, they say they just did what anyone else in their shoes would have done.
“It’s not one of those things where it’s like oh it takes a hero to do that,” said Parhiala. “I think any person whose competent in the water and sees someone like that and you see a body in the car, you know there’s a body in the car, and if you don’t do something that person is going to perish right in front of you , I think you’re gonna step up to the occasion.”