A Marine officer who put his own life at risk to save a pregnant woman from a dangerous current that was pulling her out to sea has received his service's top award for heroism outside of combat conditions.
Maj. William Easter, the theater security cooperation officer with the Japan-based III Marine Expeditionary Force, was running along the shore of the East China Sea in December 2018 when he heard a man calling for help.
The man was swimming with his pregnant wife when the weather suddenly changed. A strong rip current formed, separating the two. The man was able to reach the beach, but the woman was still in the water.
Easter took immediate action, according to his Navy and Marine Corps medal citation. The major received the award, the highest heroism medal for non-combat situations, earlier this month.
"He was risking his own life," Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, Easter's commanding general, said at the Feb. 14 award ceremony in Okinawa. "... This was no small act, and I am proud to present him with this award."
Easter directed one of the service members with him to contact emergency personnel and another to find a flotation device. Once he had a lifesaving ring, he rushed through rough surf and swam more than 100 yards to reach the woman amid 35 mph wind gusts and 10-foot waves.
When Easter reached her, the woman was too tired to swim back to shore, according to the citation.
"For nearly an hour, he focused his efforts on keeping the distressed swimmer afloat and safe until water rescue services arrived," it adds.
When the first rescue personnel arrived, though, the water was so choppy that their watercraft capsized. Easter and the woman were forced back into the water until someone else could reach them.
The major thanked the local fire department during his speech at the ceremony.
"They're the ones who picked us up out of the water with jet skis, making everything a bit easier," he said, according to a Marine Corps news release.
Despite the recognition for his heroism, Easter said he was certain any other service member faced with the same situation would have responded in the same way.
"I think I'm just as brave as anybody else in the military," he said. "I was just the right person at the right time."