NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas -- A Marine was awarded Sunday for a life-threatening act of heroism.
To the average passerby, Lance Cpl. Bryan Daniels looked like any other driver sitting in traffic on the President George Bush Turnpike in Grand Prairie, Texas, on the afternoon of August 3, 2013. Daniels, a 21-year-old food delivery truck driver from Keller, Texas, was driving his normal route when a tractor-trailer careened off of the overpass above and into the lane of traffic ahead of him. That’s when Daniels distinguished himself from the other drivers. He jumped from his truck and ran toward the billows of smoke ahead as other drivers turned around and fled in the opposite direction.
“On the surveillance video, you can see other cars pull over, but nobody gets out to help,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rodney Fountain, motor transport chief with Headquarters Battery, 14th Marine Regiment, where Daniels also serves as a motor transport operator. “People just pass by; some even turn around and take off in the other direction. But then you see Daniels, alone, running towards the truck.”
He reacted by doing everything in his power to attempt to save the life of the driver but unknown to Daniels at the time, it was already too late.
“In my mind there was no choice but to act,” said Daniels. “I had to see if there was someone still inside.”
For his actions, the Marine Corps awarded Daniels the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, one of the nation’s highest honors for acts of heroism. When awarded for an act of life-saving or attempted life-saving, the action must be performed at the risk of one’s own life to qualify, which is exactly what happened that day.
“I think he used his training as a Marine to help him stay calm and think clearly in the situation,” said Fountain. “He did what we all hope we would do if we were put in that same situation.”
As the first responder to arrive at the scene of the gruesome accident, Daniels assessed the situation and looked for signs of the driver outside the wreckage. Finding none, he approached the burning vehicle, finding the passenger side completely smashed into the ground and the driver’s side up in the air.
“The car was smashed. It was hard to see through all the debris,” said Daniels. “There was glass, oil, metal and God knows what else all over the place, but I did my best to get to him.”
Daniels couldn’t initially see the driver, later identified as James Long from Clarksville, Tennessee, so Daniels peeled back the glass from the shattered windshield and reached into the cab, slicing the skin on his arms and hands on the glass and metal while calling out to the victim and attempting to reach him. Daniels was only able to reach the bottom of his boot due to the position of the driver in the truck’s twisted metal but relentlessly tried to rescue him from the burning truck.
“We train our Marines to act, not to stand idly by in the face of danger,” said Col. Michael Gann, commanding officer, 14th Marine Regiment. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on active duty or in the Reserve, whether you’re on duty or out in your regular life, we are always Marines.”
Despite Daniels’ efforts, as well as help from officers with the Grand Prairie Police Department and a retired firefighter who stopped to assist, they were unable to control the fire, and before long it consumed the cabin of the vehicle. Being completely committed to saving the driver, Daniels had to be pulled away from the wreckage seconds before the vehicle exploded, catching the entire trailer on fire.
“I’ve gotten to know Daniels since being assigned to the unit, and I’m not surprised in the least by his actions,” said 1st Sgt. Robert Larez, Headquarters Battery, 14th Marine Regiment. “It speaks to his character, and who he is as a man and as a Marine.”
Tragically, the driver could not be saved but Daniels’ deeds were not forgotten. The Grand Prairie Police Department notified Headquarters Battery of his actions, leading directly to the award.
“I didn’t ever expect anything like this after the incident happened,” said Daniels. “Honestly it’s kind of hard for me to accept people making a big deal out of it…I wasn’t being a hero. I was just trying to help another person.”
At the ceremony aboard NAS Fort Worth JRB, the 14th Marines Regiment commanding officer spoke to a crowd of Marines, family members, and officers from the Grand Prairie Police Department about the significance of being a Marine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“Lance Cpl. Daniels was in his everyday life, driving a delivery truck, and it would have been easy for him to turn the other way,” said Gann. “But when the moment came he acted selflessly and without hesitation. What Daniels did exemplifies the values we uphold as Marines.”