SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- “It all just happened so fast. I didn’t think. I just reacted,” said Lance Cpl. Taylor Janis. “I really can’t describe it.” Janis wasn’t referring to a combat experience. He was recalling the night when he risked his life to pull an 8-year-old boy named Matthew from a badly damaged vehicle. The vehicle was involved in a head-on collision that claimed the lives of the boy’s mother, brother and a family friend, in addition to putting his 2-year-old sister in critical condition. For his heroic actions, Janis, a light-armored vehicle crewman with Company E, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal Sept. 14 at his unit’s drill center in Syracuse, N.Y. News reports described the accident as brutal. Janis said that the accident has reminded him how lives can change in the blink of an eye and the importance of living like each day counts. “Life is valuable, so don’t take anything for granted,” Janis said. “Life can throw you a curve ball at any time. Just be an honest person and do the right thing. It’s important to me to stay true to myself and who I am.”
James and Mary Jo Janis, Lance Cpl. Janis’ parents, said that that their son’s actions and outlook are not out of character for him. “I just think it’s wonderful, I think he has left a lasting impression on that little boy,” Mary Jo Janis said. “He’s been through such a horrible ordeal and Taylor has been able to give him something good to focus on.” Janis reached out to Matthew and invited him to visit, according to his parents. The first time Matthew met with the Janis family after the accident, Janis took Matthew for a tractor ride after Matthew told him about his love for trucks, tractors and anything with an engine. Since then, Janis has stayed in contact with Matthew, calling him twice a week and taking him places, such as the Albany Saratoga Speedway, a stock car racetrack. As a part of a fundraiser held on May 17, sponsored by a family member of James Janis for the Sleight family, Matthew was able to wave the flag and announce for the cars to start their engines. He was also able to meet his favorite drivers and sit in the driver’s seat of one of the cars. The fundraiser came about after Matthew told Janis about how his parents used to take him to the speedway races. “I kind of took him under my wing,” Janis said. “He’s only eight. He’s become my little buddy.” “Taylor’s always been that kind of person,” James Janis said. “He wouldn’t let something like this pass by without taking the opportunity to reach out. He’s always been a conscientious, caring kid. It’s what we expected of him.” Both parents believe that the Marine Corps has played a part in the way their son lives his life today. “He works hard and he plays hard,” James Janis said. “I believe the Marine Corps was a really strong decision in his life that nurtured him in the direction he wants to go and the person he wants to become.” He said the promise of brotherhood and discipline of being a Marine got his attention at the age of 14. Since joining, he said his time in the Marine Corps has played a large part in who he is today. “It’s definitely made me a tougher person,” Janis said. “It’s made me mature into a stronger person from the kid I used to be.” Just as the Marine Corps made an impact on Janis’ life, he found that he had done the same for his 8-year-old friend. After the accident, Matthew’s extended family tracked down Janis through Facebook and thanked him for his actions, informing him of the impact he had on little Matthew. “Everyone I talked to was telling me that he looks at me as a hero, that every time he’s around me he’s more happy,” Janis said. “It feels good, because I know I can be a good role model for him.” While little Matthew may have lost much of his family, he has gained a new brother in a Marine who chose to go above and beyond his call of duty.