II MEF Marine considered hero by peers

24 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ryan M. Blaich

Author C.S. Lewis once said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” A Marine from the II Marine Expeditionary Force knows this to be true, having been tested by fate.

Beneath camouflage netting, surrounded by several dozen military vehicles, sits a soft-spoken Marine mechanic. With hands stained black from oil and grease, he keeps to himself as he finishes a cigarette. Co-workers approach him, as if by magnetic force, to share secrets and praise his hard work.

Lance Cpl. John P. Summers, organizational automotive mechanic, Motor Transportation section, II MEF Headquarters Group, II MEF, has thwarted two life-threatening situations. Aside from being proficient as a mechanic, Summers hosts the elusive, intangible qualities of a hero.

During May 2006, Summers was temporarily assigned to assist a Marine Corps recruiter for 30 days.  He inducted three new recruits into the Corps, but his memory of his diligent efforts is overshadowed by even bigger events.

Driving a friend into town on an unusually cold spring night, Summers came around a sharp bend in the road.

“Out of the corner of my eye, a young lady was staggering around in the ditch,” Summers recalled. “I figured I’d better stop, she might be in danger.”

The woman, seven-months pregnant, had accidentally driven off the road.

“The (police) officers estimated she was going about 100 mph,” he said. “Her car had everything ripped off it, the entire wheel housing, the disk, the brakes, rotors; all ripped off and thrown everywhere. The windshields were all busted out. You wouldn’t think anyone survived it.”

The 20-year-old Marine recognized that the chilly weather posed a severe threat to the accident victim, and immediately placed her in the passenger seat of his vehicle, where she lost consciousness.

“I turned the heater on. It was a cold night, about 35 to 40 degrees, cold enough where I don’t think she would have survived if she’d laid out there all night and passed out. I called 9-1-1 and tried to wake her up, talking to the dispatcher the whole time, but she never woke up.”

Summers then assisted paramedics by placing the woman onto a stretcher and watched as they drove away to an airlift site.

“When we got her out on the stretcher she said, ‘Call my husband.’”

The phone number Summers received from the semi-conscious young woman was incorrect. He never got in touch with her husband.

“I never got to talk to her afterward,” he said. “She was out of the hospital about two or three days later. As far as I know, she had her kid and she’s doing fine.”

A week later, the self-described outdoorsman was out with friends in a neighboring town, “in the middle of nowhere,” passing out Marine Corps fliers, looking for potential leathernecks. While stopped on the side of the road, he and his friends heard a loud commotion. Summers knew exactly what the noise was.

He quickly reacted to the situation, stating, “Man, somebody’s hurt bad. We need to get up there, now.”

Summers jumped into his truck with his group and raced toward what they knew was a car wreck.

“I saw the truck just laying in the ditch, wadded up, upside down,” Summers said. “The first thing I did was jump out of the truck and ran up toward the (wrecked) truck.”

Summers had barely arrived at the accident site when he saw a body lying on the ground. He told his friend to call 9-1-1.

“I noticed a boy lying in the middle of the highway with his shirt pulled over the top of his head and a few people just standing around looking at him,” said Summers. “It was the same young guy I was trying to recruit earlier.”

Noting the victim had severe head bleeding, Summers checked for a pulse, but could not find one. He knew the young man was dying.

“I took his shirt off real quick and stuffed it up underneath his head,” recalled Summers. “I got him situated and started giving him (cardiopulmonary resuscitation),” he said, indicating that the CPR he learned while in Marine Corps recruit training proved useful.

“After about two minutes of doing (CPR) he started coughing real bad,” he said. “He started breathing on his own and coughing up blood off to the side.”

Summers was the only bystander able to keep his composure, assess the situation and resuscitate the victim. Others at the scene were too horrified by the situation to respond.

“I wasn’t freaked out,” he said of approaching the badly injured casualty. “I was always told to at least do (CPR) until the paramedics show up.”

Summers kept the young man alive and an ambulance arrived at the accident site.  However, the young man died in a hospital approximately a month later due to his injuries.

During both incidents, Summers could have walked away.  He could have done nothing.  He chose to step up to his responsibilities in the face of frightening situations.

“He is a hero, you can ask anyone in the shop,” said Cpl. Donald C. Rader, Motor Transport shop chief, who credits him with being the most proficient mechanic on the floor. “He deserves some type of medal. Not everyone could do what he did. I’m glad he is on our side.”     

Marines are arguably a unique breed of warfighters. Trained to be warriors, Marines also possess compassion and loyalty. The unusual circumstances that occurred while Summers was home tested his very soul and instinct. He credits his training. But, his peers said that is just his character.