Lance Cpl. Tucker Watson-Veal was awarded the Corps’ highest award for noncombat bravery, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, in May for his heroic actions in rescuing a child caught up in a deadly river current.
Then-Pfc. Watson-Veal sprung to action on Sept. 17, 2016, while vacationing near the lower Salt River in Arizona after being approached by a distraught man who said a child was caught up in the strong current and couldn’t swim.
“Somebody had to get this child out of the river,” Watson-Veal told Marine Corps Times.
To beat the current, Watson-Veal pushed up river past the child before plunging into the icy cold waters.
“No way I was going to swim against that current,” Watson-Veal said. “The Salt River is a very fast moving body of water.”
The young Marine swam across the river. “(I) let the current take me to him,” Watson-Veal explained.
After approaching the boy, Watson-Veal latched onto him with one arm while grabbing onto a tree branch.
Because of the nearby terrain, there was no way to pull the boy onto land, Watson-Veal said.
But, because of his training as a combat lifesaver, the Marine noticed the young boy was showing signs of hypothermia. He was shaking, had a pale face and his lips were blue, Watson-Veal said.
“He was not in very good condition, he needed to get out of the river very quickly,” he said.
An airboat belonging to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office eventually arrived on scene to assist the two stuck in the river.
“I grew up in Arizona and spent many years on the Salt River so I knew exactly how much danger that kid was in and the danger my son put himself in jumping into that river,” Watson-Veal’s mother, Jackie Watson-Veal, told Marine Corps Times. “I cannot remember the statistics now but there have been many deaths on the Salt River.”
The sheriff’s department recommended Watson-Veal for a Citizen Lifesaving Certificate of Commendation.
“It was determined later, without hesitation, Tucker jumped into the river and swam across the strong current risking his own life to save Alex,” the sheriff’s report states. “Due to the river’s current and cold water temperature, it is the belief both subjects could not have held on for much longer and Tucker saved Alex from possibly drowning.”
Watson-Veal is an infantry Marine currently filing the role of a range coach. He is assigned to 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal was presented to Watson-Veal at a ceremony held at Twentynine Palms, California.