A Sailor received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal in a ceremony Friday, Nov. 4 at NAB Coronado’s Vietnam Unit Memorial.
Air Traffic Controlman 2nd Class Jacob Bukowiecki, from Surprise, Arizona, was presented the Navy’s highest non-combat medal after saving a stranded motorist from flash flooding March 12, 2020.
Bukowiecki, a tactical air control center supervisor assigned to Tactical Air Control Squadron 11, was on leave and traveling with his wife in southeast California when he was the first on-scene to witness a man in his vehicle become trapped by flash flooding. After the vehicle was swept off the road and into Milpitas Wash, he ran a third of a mile and without hesitation, jumped into the water to help.
“At the time I had no idea this was a big deal,” Bukowiecki said. “I did what I think anyone would’ve – what anyone should have done.”
The flood-swept vehicle quickly filled with water, leaving only the driver’s head visible. With water up to his chest, Bukowiecki was forced to return to shore.
Nearly an hour had passed when someone arrived on the scene who had a rope in their car. Bukowiecki then attempted to throw the rope to the stranded driver. When that failed, he jumped back into the wash to bring it to him.
Bukowiecki successfully tied the rope around his torso so others could pull them to shore, but the man was reluctant to leave the car without his shoe. Bukowiecki quickly found out why – his shoe was a prosthetic leg.
Petty Officer Bukowiecki was then able to throw the leg to shore and help the man out of the water without further incident. Soon, border patrol agents arrived, providing continued support for the man’s medical needs. It was clear then that any delay in his rescue could have put him at much greater risk due to medical conditions.
After ensuring the man was safe, Bukowiecki and his wife continued their trip as planned.
The story spread after Bukowiecki returned to work. When Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Hazelgrove heard about his heroic actions, he stopped at nothing to ensure he was recognized.
“The more I found out about it, I thought it was incredible,” said Hazelgrove. “It’s a testament to what our sailors are willing to do when no one is looking, and the world needs to see that. He wasn’t thinking about getting a medal that day. To see him get recognized for his efforts is important.”
Two years later, that became possible. At NAB Coronado’s Vietnam Unit Memorial, Bukowiecki was presented the navy and Marine Corps Medal by Capt. Gabriel M. Kelly, Commodore, Tactical Air Control Group 1. The ceremony included his coworkers, wife, and young son.
“It’s a blessing to get recognition for this,” Bukowiecki said.
Following the award ceremony, Bukowiecki reenlisted for another three years of Navy service.
Hazelgrove, who acted as reenlisting officer, was ecstatic to see Bukowiecki recognized. “He didn’t have to do anything, but he sprang into action and saved a life that day,” he said. “Hopefully this will motivate others to do the right thing.”
Source: U.S. Navy