FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 30, 2020) -- A Fort Lee Soldier tasked with honoring the life of a U.S. military veteran during a funeral service wound up helping to save another one at the same time.
Sgt. 1st Class Allen Saito rendered chest compressions to an elderly man who had no vital signs during an Oct. 17 memorial service in Brunswick County. The former Navy corpsman was able to revive the victim prior to the arrival of emergency medical personnel.
“I was relieved he came back,” said Saito, a Logistics Noncommissioned Officer Academy instructor and maintenance supervisor.
The man was taken by ambulance to a hospital and later released, according to a representative of the funeral home conducting the service.
Saito and two other Soldiers were detailed to support a burial at Lawrenceville’s First Baptist Church Cemetery. During the ceremony, Saito said he noted a man looking unsteady, then moments later being helped into a chair by fellow attendees. Within seconds, the man fell to the ground, appearing to lose consciousness.
“A woman started to do chest compressions, and another guy asked if there are any medical personnel that could help,” recalled the Hawaii native. “I said I could.”
Saito supported Marine Corps units while in the Navy and has maintained some degree of medical certification. He said he went into “muscle memory” mode – owed to his training and experiences in Iraq – during the incident, moving him to take actions without much conscious thought. He went on to verify the absence of a pulse and heartbeat, then began chest compressions until the victim showed signs of life.
“He started coughing, and his eyes were open,” said Saito. “He regained some consciousness.”
Within a few minutes, medical personnel arrived and initiated emergency procedures, Saito recalled.
Oddly, the ceremony proceeded through the course of the incident. Moments after the ambulance whisked the victim off, it was Saito and a fellow Soldier’s turn to step forward and fold and present the flag to the fallen veteran’s family. The procedure went smoothly, said Saito, noting he was eager to complete the mission he was assigned in the first place.
“My focus was on folding the flag and honoring the individual who passed away,” he had earlier confirmed.
Sgt. Maj. Leonard McFarlane, assistant commandant, LNCOA, said Saito’s actions reflect institutional standards in the areas training and selfless service.
“SFC Saito’s actions speak highly of the Army Values, and his drive and motivation as a servant leader in this organization,” he said.