A Naval Academy midshipman received the Navy's highest non-combat medal for heroism Tuesday, honoring him for canoeing through a dangerous storm to get help after several people were injured or killed at a Boy Scout campsite.
Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler, 22, of Medford, New Jersey, was awarded with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his leadership of a Boy Scout troop in July. He said the award was surprise.
"I don't think that ever really dawned on me," Dennler said. "It was something that happened and (we did) what we needed to do."
The medal was first presented during World War II and only about 3,000 have been given out since. President John F. Kennedy received the award when he was a Navy lieutenant and rescued the crew of his torpedo patrol boat after it sank.
In order to receive the honor, there must be "evidence that the act of heroism involved very specific life-threatening risk to the awardee," according to the academy.
Dennler was camping with a Boy Scout troop in Ontario when the campsite was struck by a storm carrying 80 mph wind gusts and lightning strikes. Two trees fell on the campsite, crushing the tent occupied by Dennler and others. A Scout and an adult volunteer were killed, and others were severely injured. The accident knocked Dennler's glasses of his face.
When Dennler wasn't able to contact help through a radio, he canoed about 1.5 miles at night through 60 mph winds to a ranger station. He helped evacuate an uninjured Scout, and brought back help and medical supplies, the Navy said.
Vice Adm. Ted Carter, academy superintendent, announced the award at the brigade assembly that takes place at the start of every semester. Dennler didn't know about it, or that parents and several survivors of the camping trip would be present.
Dennler attended George Washington University for two years before attending the Naval Academy. He hopes to serve in the Marine Corps when he graduates.
Dennler will be the only person, including high-ranking academy officials, on the yard who will have the military honor, said Cmdr. David McKinney, academy spokesman.
Spokeswoman Jenny Erickson added that a midshipman hasn't received this honor in at least a decade, if not longer.
Dennler credited his experience as an Eagle Scout and at the academy for preparing him to handle the dangerous situation. The academy, he said, taught him to think of his team and others first.
"It's hard to see something when you're here, but it was a lesson I was thankful for," he said.
The midshipman plans to keep the medal in a "very nice spot," and will display the red-white-and-blue ribbon on his uniform. Though Dennler said he's still processing the significance of it.
"I don't know if it's fully sunk in yet."