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thedrifter
04-14-09, 06:08 AM
Marine hero given award for saving Sgt. Eddie Ryan
By Alexa James
Times Herald-Record
April 14, 2009 6:00 AM

STEWART AIRPORT — Staff Sgt. Karl Schaeffer had to be thanked.

And so he was flown to New York and escorted by police to Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh. On a grassy place beside a parking lot, Marines lined up to salute. A crowd filled in around them, armed with cameras, straining to see this hero they'd heard so much about.

All applauded as the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal was pinned to his camouflaged chest.

Schaeffer would have preferred far less attention.

"It's somewhat uncomfortable," he softly told the microphones bouncing before his face.

The bronze medallion features a fouled anchor in the center and a five-pointed star at each corner. Its green-and-orange ribbon lay crisp against Schaeffer's desert-colored fatigues. The Department of the Navy says this medal reflects "achievement of a superlative nature."

Or, put simply, in the deliberate words of a Marine seated in a wheelchair in the front row:

"He saved my life."

Four years ago Monday, Sgt. Eddie Ryan was in a sniper position on a roof in Iraq when bedlam erupted.

A "friendly" tank mistakenly fired machine gun rounds at the Marines on the building. Two bullets tore through Ryan's face.

Amid the chaos, Schaeffer crawled to Ryan's side, covered his limp body with his own and started first aid. He got a pulse, and he kept it going until the helicopter arrived and took Ryan away.

Years passed.

Schaeffer, 30, of Reading, Pa., has done three tours in Iraq and leaves next to train for Afghanistan.

Ryan, 25, of Ellenville, has learned to talk, to shave and to stand. He says he wants to get well enough to serve again.

The pair stood reunited Monday, each trying to deflect thanks and praise on the other.

Ryan gave Schaeffer a wooden plaque with an eagle outstretched across the top and the words "forever indebted to you" etched into the bottom.

Schaeffer, his hat pulled low to shade his eyes, cupped Ryan's face and kissed his cheek.

It's hard to talk about the incident, he told the cheering crowd. "What really seems worth mentioning to me is what Eddie's done now ... his recovery and his continued commitment to our country."

ajames@th-record.com

Ellie