OKINAWA, Japan -- Four Marines were traveling toward a Yokosuka train station on their way to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, when they heard a call for help. Without hesitation, they sprinted toward the scene, weaving between pedestrians on a crowded street.
“We were running as fast as we could,” said Lance Cpl. James H. Flores, from West, Texas. “We just started to go toward the crowd. At that point, we just headed straight over there and saw the accident, and immediately we did what we could to help.”
An SUV with a local family of five fell from the fifth story of a parking garage and landed upside down, compressing the vehicle. The Marines quickly noticed eight local residents and two U.S. Sailors working to recover the family inside.
“It was just an instinct to help pull them out of the car,” said Flores.
Initially, the responders strained to open the doors to pull the family out, but struggled due to the vehicle’s capsized position. Then Flores thought of flipping the vehicle upright, and the Yokosukan responders began synchronizing the group’s efforts by establishing a cadence. Lance Cpl. Raheem F. Gilliam, who had recently learned to count in Japanese, started translating. The Marines and Sailors were then able to work together with the locals to flip the car in synch.
“That’s when we started getting everyone out,” said Lance Cpl. Manaure V. Arellano, from Pearsall, Texas. “Our thought was to just get people out as fast as possible. There was no pausing.”
The Marines took their experiences from the Marine Corps and applied it to the situation at hand.
“We’re trained as Marines, especially being infantry, to have an immediate reaction,” said Gilliam, from Moore, Oklahoma. “Every day the mission comes first, and the mission was to get them out.”
After the locals were pulled from the car, the Marines applied fundamental skills taught during the Combat Lifesaver Course: stop the bleeding, start the breathing, treat for shock.
Once Japanese medical personnel arrived and took control of the rescue effort, the Marines went to the emergency room to ensure they did not sustain any injuries during the recovery. On the way to the ER, they reflected on what they had witnessed and thought of their loved ones at home.
“I didn’t really tell my family about it,” said Gilliam. “I just called home and told my family that I love them, because you never know when you’re going to lose them.”
Tragically, three of the victims lost their lives that day. However, two young boys in the vehicle survived after being hospitalized.
The Marines were awarded Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals at the Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan, Jan. 9. Additionally, Yuto Yoshida, the mayor of the City Yokosuka, expressed interest in personally thanking the Marines and Sailors involved in the response.
Despite their heroic actions, the Marines remain humble.
“I don’t think it makes me a hero,” said Gilliam. “It’s just what any other Marine would have done.”
The four Marines, riflemen with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, are forward-deployed to 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan.