Fort Shafter, HAWAII -- A U.S. Army Pacific Command Soldier enjoying spring break with his family led a team of bystanders to revive an unconscious man until emergency services arrived at Electric Beach, Hawaii March 19, 2021.
Lt. Col. John D. Atwell, U.S. Army Pacific deputy chief G33, current operations, was awarded the Army Commendation Medal on April 16, 2021, at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, for his heroic and swift actions that saved a man’s life.
Lt. Col. John D. Atwell had just finished snorkeling with his son when his wife, Amanda Atwell, said, “Oh no!”
“I turned around and saw two men pulling a man out of the surf and onto the beach,” said Atwell. “I told my wife to call 911 and I went to see if I could help.”
Atwell said, he pushed through the crowd of beachgoers that gathered and saw the man lying in front of him was purple and not breathing. Another person was doing chest compressions and Atwell joined, relying on his training as an Army combat lifesaver and volunteer firefighter with a rescue diver SCUBA certification to keep the man alive.
“I did all the steps I was supposed to do with someone in this situation and after about three minutes, the man started to breathe on his own,” said Atwell. “I told his wife, he’s breathing, and the paramedics are on the way.”
Once the paramedics arrived, Atwell relayed the information of what he witnessed and what aid was rendered.
Later identified as Richard McMillan, the man said that the waves had gotten the best of him while he was swimming.
"We will forever be grateful for John Atwell's fast and professional action to render lifesaving CPR that brought Richard back from a drowning situation,” said Cynthia McMillan. “John's care and knowledge of proper administration of life-saving technique are responsible for this much-beloved Husband, Father and Grandfather being here with us today, and with no lasting effects from this event.
“There is no way to repay Mr. Atwell's actions; he leaped into the situation with no regard for his own safety during this pandemic,” said Richard McMillan. When we met John and his family two days later for dinner, he was so humble and kind. He does not think he did anything special, but we consider him a hero and are so happy to hear he is being recognized for his bravery and swift rescue success. I am just happy he was there. Thank you, Mr. Atwell!”