A JBER soldier was awarded the highest military honor for an act of heroism in a non-war setting today.
Sergeant 1st Class John Kerns recieved the Soldier’s Medal for pulling a man from a burning car after it crashed and before it exploded a few moments later.
A paratrooper with the 4th Infantry Brigade combat team, 25th infantry division, Kerns was driving on interstate 95 near the Virginia/North Carolina state line in 2011, when he saw a car veer off the highway and crash into trees.
Kerns ran to the upside down vehicle. He says the doors were locked but most of the glass was broken out of the burning, but still running, mangled car. The driver was incapacitated and the seat belts would not release.
“I had to physically cut his seat belt off and pull him from the front seats of the car, into the back of the car to pull him out,” Kerns said.
Kerns says he doesn’t remember making any deliberate decisions about what he should do. But it was clear the car was going to explode.
“When I was pulling him out the flames were already coming around the side of the hood, the front of the car was already engulfed. And when I opened the other door to pull him out, I was asking for help from some of the other people there,” Kerns said. ”There was a Federal Express employee and there was another person approached. When the tires started to pop, that was the end of my help, they disbursed.”
The last thing Kerns did before getting clear of the burning car, was grab the man’s cell phone.
“I remember thinking to myself, this guy’s had a pretty bad day, the only thing that’s going to make it worse was to lose all those phone numbers,” Kerns said.
Kerns says the man was convulsing when he reached the car and he suspects that he was having a seizure that probably caused the crash. But it’s unlikely that he’ll ever know for sure. He found out from the hospital that the man was recovering, but he never found out who he had saved.
The Soldier’s Medal is awarded only for saving a life without regard to losing your own.