A former Marine sergeant on May 17 was awarded the nation’s highest award for noncombat bravery for risking his life to disarm a suicidal Marine.
The view included a loaded rifle, ammunition and alcohol bottles strewn about and a struggling Marine armed with two semi-automatic pistols: “It was just a shit show of a scene,” Donovan said.
It was a Sunday, June 18, 2017, when he got a distressing call from one of his junior Marines who was driving around North Carolina.
The young Marine told Donovan — his acting platoon sergeant at the time with 2nd Radio Battalion — that he had “reached a point in his life that he felt he needed to take his own life,” Donovan said, recounting the phone conversation. “It took me by surprise.”
Donovan tried to calm the Marine down, and convinced him to return to his house, where Donovan headed out to meet him.
As Donovan left for the house he phoned his chain of command and the Jacksonville, North Carolina, police department.
The junior Marine was holding two pistols in his hands when Donovan entered the house.
And once inside the house with the armed Marine, Donovan kept his phone on and the line open with the police, so they could hear everything that was going on.
“Despite continued risk to himself, Sergeant Donovan stayed in the room with the suicidal Marine and attempted to convince him to put down the pistols and leave with him to go get help,” the award citation reads.
Another Marine sergeant who was acquainted with the struggling Marine also entered the house to help.
Donovan and the other sergeant convinced the suicidal Marine to step out on the balcony for a smoke.
The young Marine told Donovan he needed to use bathroom, but was still wielding both pistols.
“I got that feeling gut feeling if he went into that bathroom he wasn’t coming back,” Donovan said.
When he stood up and the pistols were pointing in a safe direction Donovan “grabbed his wrist and threw him to the ground,” he said.
“He pointed the gun at my chest and pulled the trigger a few times, the gun didn’t go off.”
The suicidal Marine also pointed the gun at the other sergeant in the room and attempted to fire but the loaded gun still malfunctioned.
“I don’t know why they didn’t go off, but thank God they didn’t,” Donovan said.
Donovan and the other sergeant grappled the weapons out of the junior Marine’s hands and the cops rushed up the stairs and arrested him.
Donovan now works for an armored car company and plans to use his GI Bill to finish college.
After leaving the Corps in 2017 after five years, including two six-month combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Donovan received a call from his chain of command informing him that the unit was considering him for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
“It blew my mind I was even being put in for such an award,” he told Marine Corps Times. “At the end of the day, what transpired that day, is what I would expect anyone to do.”
Donovan’s heroic actions that day helped prevent “the loss of life,” according to the award citation.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.