By Spc. Beth LakeAugust 21, 2007
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea (Army News Service, Aug. 21, 2007) - Two 2nd Infantry Division Soldiers were awarded the Soldier's Medal, the Army's highest peacetime honor, for saving an elderly woman and her handicapped daughter from a burning apartment in Uijeongbu, Korea, last year.
Pfc. Russell McCanless Jr. of the Headquarters and Headquarters Support Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, was awarded the Soldier's Medal at Camp Red Cloud Aug. 16. Pfc. Reid Erickson will be awarded the Soldier's Medal by his new unit at Fort Benning, Ga.
The night of the fire, the two Soldiers entered a smoky stairway to search an apartment above a restaurant and encountered an elderly woman who pleaded for them to come in. They found her daughter crawling on the floor, unable to walk. Pfc. Erickson assisted the woman while Pfc. McCanless carried her daughter to safety.
"The first thing I thought of was, 'I hope there is nobody in this apartment above the restaurant,'" said Pfc. McCanless. "We went in to check if there were any animals or people. I just wanted to make sure the people were alive. I would hope someone would do the same for me."
"They answered their call to duty," said Maj. Gen. James A. Coggin, 2nd Infantry Div. commander, during the award ceremony. "They put their lives on the line to help save the lives of others. Their personal courage proved to the world, proved to their fellow Soldiers and proved to themselves what being a Soldier is about."
An anonymous person read their story and sent the Soldiers 600,000 won, the equivalent of about $600. Instead of keeping the money, they chose to give back to the community in which they serve.
"In the spirit of selfless service, Pfc. McCanless and Pfc. Erickson have chosen to re-donate the money back into the community to Seon Jae Dong Ja Buddhist Orphanage, exemplifying the very nature of what the Republic of Korea/U.S. Alliance represents," Maj. Gen. Coggin said.
Pfc. McCanless said the entire ceremony was quite overwhelming: "I didn't expect anything like this for one little action.
"There are other people who deserve it more than I do," he added. "There are people over in Iraq and Afghanistan who are doing great things and not getting recognized for it. Here I am in Korea, and I just saved a couple of people's lives. I didn't anticipate getting an award for this. It was just the right thing to do."
(Spc. Lake is a public affairs specialist with the Second Infantry Division Public Affairs Office.)