ANCHORAGE — A soldier based in Anchorage has been awarded the military’s highest honor for heroism in a non-war setting for saving a man from a burning car.
Sgt. 1st Class John Kerns of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was awarded the Soldier’s Medal on Thursday, Alaska Public Radio Network reported. The medal is awarded for saving a life without regard to losing one’s own.
Kerns is paratrooper with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
He was driving on Interstate 95 near the Virginia-North Carolina border in 2010 and saw a car leave the roadway and crash into trees.
The car flipped as it left the road and caught fire.
The driver was convulsing when Kerns approached. Kerns suspects a seizure caused the driver to lose control.
The car’s doors remained locked but most of the windows had shattered. The driver was unresponsive, Kerns said, but he could not unbuckle the man’s seat belt.
“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.
Two others approached as Kerns struggled to pull the driver out. It was apparent the car could explode, he said.
“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 dispersed.”
The last thing Kerns did was grab the man’s cellphone.
“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.
The car exploded after he was clear.
Kerns never found out the man’s name but learned the driver was recovering at a hospital.