Four U.S. Marines and two Sailors were traveling toward a Japanese train station on their way to celebrate New Year’s Eve when they heard a call for help. Without hesitation, they sprinted toward the scene, weaving between pedestrians on a crowded street. They soon discovered that a vehicle with five passengers had fallen from the fifth story of a parking garage.
The SUV, which was transporting a local family of five, landed upside down, compressing the vehicle. The Marines quickly noticed eight local residents and two U.S. Sailors working to recover the family inside.
“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.”
While awaiting the arrival of Japanese Emergency Medical Services the group flipped the car in an attempt to remove the passengers. “It was just an instinct to help pull them out of the car,” said Flores.
Initially, the responders tried 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.”
“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.
Tragically, three of the victims lost their lives that day. However, two young boys in the vehicle survived after being hospitalized.
The Marines, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and forward-deployed to 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan. They 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.”
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