National Guard Soldier Pulls Family from Burning Car, Earns Soldier's Medal
September 5, 2007
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Army News Service, Sept. 6, 2007) - Staff Sgt. Danny Stanley served a year in Iraq, but the awards for heroism came for what the National Guard Citizen-Soldier did back home.
Staff Sgt. Stanley is credited with saving the lives of three people after the Mississippi Army National Guard member drove upon a fiery car crash.
His decision to stop and help - he says it was more unquestioning reflex than a choice - and risk his life to pull a father, mother and daughter from a car engulfed in flames earned him: the Soldier's Medal, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States Award for Heroism and now the Valley Forge Cross for Heroism from the National Guard Association of the United States.
Staff Sgt. Stanley received the Valley Forge Cross at the 129th NGAUS General Conference here Aug. 25.
In Iraq, he ran convoy escorts, worked checkpoints and performed more than 300 missions. But a unique challenge awaited him back home in Mississippi, when he drove upon a burning car on rural Munford's Crossing Oct. 5, 2006.
With emergency responders still not on the scene and other drivers not stopping, Staff Sgt. Stanley, who was en route to a mission at the Kosciusko Armory, did.
"A vehicle had overturned off a bridge down onto the road below," he said. To this day, he remembers only that the car was white. "It burst into flames. I got out and thought maybe the car had been cleared, but it hadn't."
Staff Sgt. Stanley signaled passing cars for help, but no one would stop.
He had seen crashes before, riding in his daddy's wrecker as a boy. He had seen even more in Iraq, where he served as a combat lifesaver.
When a burned and bruised man with broken bones emerged from the car, Staff Sgt. Stanley pulled him to safety. The man pointed back at the burning car.
"My family," he said. "My babies."
As the flames grew hotter, Staff Sgt. Stanley ran toward them.
"I opened the door," he said. "There was a woman lying there."
Burned and cut, she had compound fractures to both legs. But when Staff Sgt. Stanley reached for her, she pushed his hands away and said, "My babies."
"I didn't know, exactly ..." he recalled, words failing him. "The fire was roaring. A little girl jumps over from the back seat into my arms. I just grabbed her and threw her onto my back, and grabbed mom. She was about 2. I can see her. She had little pigtails and a white shirt on. I pulled her and her mom out and drug her over to the ditch."
A teen-age girl walked up. "Can I help'" she said. Staff Sgt. Stanley gave her the baby and a desert camouflage uniform shirt from his car. The girl wrapped the child in the shirt.
"My babies," the woman said, again.
"I got the baby," Staff Sgt. Stanley said.
"No, I have two in the back," the woman said.
"My heart sank," Staff Sgt. Stanley recalled. "The car just ... flames were everywhere."
He went back to the car. He was wearing his Army fitness uniform, and the heat singed all the hair off his legs.
"You could hear the paint just cracking," he said. "You couldn't touch the car anymore. I dropped to my knees and just prayed right there that God took them before they felt the flames, you know' Maybe the smoke took them before - they died in their sleep.
"If they would've cried, I would've died."
Of the five people in the car, Staff Sgt. Stanley saved three. Had the 2nd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery Regiment, Soldier not stopped, everyone in the car would have died, authorities said.
The awards that came later were a surprise - one that quietly delights this unassuming Guardsman, his wife, DeAnna, and their 8-year-old son Colby.
"I was told 'thank you,'" Staff Sgt. Stanley said. "And that's all I wanted. I did what any Soldier would do. What any man would do. I didn't expect anything out of it."
Staff Sgt. Stanley's chain of command, his support chain and accident investigators made sure his heroism was recognized.
"I appreciate it," he said, turning a coin from the chief of the National Guard Bureau in his fingers.
"As a Soldier, I'd seen so much in Iraq, I felt like I couldn't do enough for them, you know'" he said. "I couldn't give them enough. I couldn't help enough. Which I knew down in my heart that's all I could do, but I just felt so vacant.
"I didn't think about it. I saw it. I went into action. It started, and it didn't stop until it was over. When the firemen and the policemen and the sheriffs and the coroners and everyone got there, I felt I could breathe again. I was still in shock at what had happened as far as the babies, but I knew in my heart I had done all I could do."
Staff Sgt. Stanley now works at Camp Shelby as an observer-controller running ranges.
(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill writes for the National Guard Bureau.)