Braving a life-threatening storm to rescue stranded scouts, Naval Academy Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal — the two services' highest award for noncombat bravery.
The award ceremony was held Jan. 10 at the Naval Academy in front of fellow midshipmen.
In July, Dennler was on a camping trip with Boy Scouts at Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. The troop under came a life-threatening storm with 80 mph wind gusts and lightning strikes.
A young scout and adult volunteer were killed when hurricane-like winds brought down two trees into the campsite.
Unable to call for help, Dennler selflessly put the lives others before his own — canoeing more than 1.5 miles in 60 mph winds to a ranger station to call for help and to retrieve medical supplies.
"It was an incredibly humbling and unexpected experience," said Dennler. "I'm very thankful to everyone who helped to make that happen and for the support of my family and friends."
In attendance at the award ceremony were the proud parents of Dennler, though not surprised by their son's actions.
"He knows how to persevere, and has a kind heart," Monica Dennler, Johnathan's mother said. "He was the only one who knew what to do back in high school when a classmate broke their leg at a basketball game, because he was an Eagle Scout."
"He is a quiet young man who would not want a big fuss, but rightfully deserves it," said 20th Company Senior Enlisted Leader Chief Electronics Technician Nicholas Howell. "Out of his classmates, he is the one who has the level head to think clearly and decisively act to contain the situation and help bring about the best possible solution."
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is rare, only about 3,000 have been awarded since the medal's inception in 1942; its first recipient was none other than President John F. Kennedy for his famous command of Torpedo Boat PT-109 during World War II.
A recent recipient includes Capt. Trey Kennedy, who received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at a ceremony this past November when he risked his life to save the crew of a downed helicopter in Afghanistan.
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the highest medal for non-combat bravery in the U.S. for the Navy and Marine Corps, even falling above the Bronze Star in order of precedence. It is considered equivalent to the Airmen's Medal and the Soldier's Medal, both of which were awarded in 2015 to Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and Army Spc. Aleksander Skarlatos for their bravery in subduing a potential terror attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015.
"USNA has taught me how to work and think in environments where many things are out of my control, and I think the academy helps to create mindsets that put others first," Dennler said at the award ceremony. "I am incredibly thankful for those lessons."
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.