Marine Earns Highest Noncombat Heroism Medal for Saving a 10-Year-Old Boy's Life

Sgt. Danny McDonald receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Sgt. Danny McDonald, a scout sniper with 2d Battalion, 6th Marines, received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a March 17, 2021 ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C. (U.S. Marine Corps)

A Marine scout sniper received his service's top noncombat heroism award for saving a 10-year-old boy who'd been carried 100 yards out to sea by a dangerous rip current.

Sgt. Danny McDonald, with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a ceremony Wednesday at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The medal is the sea services' highest award for acts of heroism that don't involve conflict with an enemy force.

McDonald was recognized for his heroic actions on May 4, 2019, at Surf City Beach -- about 20 miles from the Marine Corps base, according to a 2nd Marine Division news release. A corporal at the time, McDonald said he first thought the yelling he heard was from kids playing in the water.

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Then it became more frequent and louder as a crowd began to gather, he said.

"I got up to see what was going on, and I saw him struggling out in the water," McDonald said in a statement about the incident. "I immediately sprinted across the sand and dove into the water."

McDonald did so "with complete disregard for his own personal safety," according to his award citation. When the Marine reached the boy, he realized the child wasn't just stuck in the strong current but was also having a seizure.

"After securing the child under his arm and ensuring his head was above water, he began fighting the rip current and tide, which pushed them both toward a nearby pier," the citation adds. "Despite Corporal McDonald's severe exhaustion and in complete disregard for his own preservation, he struggled tirelessly to reach the shore and, in so doing, ensured the young boy's safety."

Once ashore, a Navy corpsman helped McDonald provide medical aid until emergency personnel arrived. Witnesses on the beach said the boy might have drowned if McDonald hadn't decided to swim out to him when he did.

"If not me, then who?" McDonald asked. "That's what it boils down to. I would do it to anyone in any situation, and I would hope someone would help me if I'm ever in trouble."

Capt. Walter Graves, Weapons Company, 2/6's company commander, said the sergeant's actions exemplify what it means to be a Marine.

"The initiative, fearlessness in the face of danger and hardship, it's exactly what we want all Marines to do," Graves said. "We have all of these characteristics that define Marines -- our honor, our courage and our commitment. Sgt. McDonald models each of those characteristics."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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