Every day Coast Guard men and women answer the call to save lives and respond from ships, small boat stations or aircraft; but you don’t have to be in uniform to perform exceptional rescues. Petty Officer 1st Class Juston Heacox played the role of lifesaver while off-duty at Point No Point State Park in Hansville, Wash., as he rescued two boys who were in danger of drowning.
Heacox was enjoying a day off with his wife and three boys at the state park when he heard screams coming from the water. Heacox had performed search and rescue missions while aboard a 110-foot patrol boat and small boat station earlier in his career, and he knew exactly what the screams were – a cry for help. The call for help was coming from two boys, 200 yards offshore, who were caught in a rip current and were unable to break free.
The rescuer intuition within Heacox ignited, and he dove into the 52-degree surf in an attempt to reach the young swimmers who desperately needed help.
“I didn’t hesitate or think twice,” said Heacox. “I was just acting out of instinct. That day I was wearing an orange Coast Guard t-shirt; I felt an obligation to help because I knew I represented the most well known search and rescue organization in the world.”
Heacox understood the urgency of the situation. Rip currents are caused by fast-moving streams of water as they surge away from the shore, and he knew this torrent of water was pulling the boys further and further away.
“The tide was changing and I could tell something was wrong. I immediately told my sons to get out of the water, but it was too late for the two boys who were pulled away from shore,” said Heacox. “I saw a man with a dog leash and ran up to him telling him I need it to rescue the boys. Without question, [Barney McGinley] handed off his dog to someone on the beach and followed me to the shore and into the water.”
He instructed the boys on information on how to break away from the rip current and urgently coached them to swim towards the shore at an angle.
Watching for breaking waves and sudden smooth water – a sure sign of rip currents – Heacox and McGinley focused on not succumbing to the rip current themselves before they could get within throws reach of the boys. Heacox pulled the boys towards McGinley’s location closer to shore and both men carried them safely ashore.
Heacox knew the ice-cold water was causing the boys’ core body temperatures to plummet from his multiple first aid, ice rescue and hypothermia training. With no regard for their own hypothermic conditions after plunging into the water, they treated the boys for hypothermia and exhaustion.
This act of heroic duty is a testament to the Coast Guard’s motto of being Always Ready, or Semper Paratus. It was because of this heroism that Heacox was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal. Heacox was just doing what he thought was right on that summer day. But in doing so, he again proved the Coast Guard’s members continue to honor their profession by selflessly serving their country – on and off duty.