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Danny McDonald didn’t hesitate before he saved a helpless child off Surf City Beach in North Carolina. He just acted on instinct.

“I dove into the water before I even knew what I was doing,” said McDonald, a Marine sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment credited with saving a 10-year-old boy from drowning on May 4, 2019. “I didn’t put that much thought into it.”

‘I reacted on instinct’ — How a Marine rescued a child from drowning in a brutal rip current
Marine Sgt. Maj. Daniel Krause, Sgt. Maj. Anthony Loftus and Sgt. Danny McDonald, all with 2d Marine Division, pose for a photo after a Navy and Marine Corps Medal award ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 17, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Elijah Abernathy)

That afternoon, McDonald was like any other beachgoer enjoying the summer weather when he heard screaming. At first, he thought it was kids yelling and playing in the water but soon realized that it was getting louder and more frequent. It was a boy struggling to stay afloat about 300 feet offshore.

“I got up to see what was going on and I saw him struggling out in the water,” said McDonald, who was a corporal at the time. “I immediately sprinted across the sand and dove into the water.”

Once the scout sniper reached the boy, McDonald realized the child was suffering from a seizure and placed him across his chest for the swim to safety, according to a Marine press release. But the rip current pulling them both away from shore was so fierce the swim of just a few hundred feet “seemed like hours.”

Sometimes mistakenly called undertow, rip currents form as narrow streams of water when waves break near the shoreline, pulling anything in their path away from the shore, sometimes at speeds in excess of five miles per hour. Nearly 60 people died from rip currents in 2019, though McDonald wasn’t thinking about any of that.

“If not me, then who,” McDonald said, describing a sense of duty that is common among service members. “That’s what it boils down to. I would do it to anyone in any situation and I would hope someone would help me if I’m ever in trouble.”

Despite his physical exhaustion, McDonald eventually made it ashore and was assisted by a Navy corpsman who happened to be present and rendered medical assistance. Then McDonald ordered others to call 911.

Eyewitnesses said the boy “would almost certainly have drowned” if McDonald hadn’t intervened, according to the release. The Marine’s leaders agreed and say his actions epitomize what it means to be a Marine. His bravery was recognized with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at Camp Lejeune on Wednesday.

“McDonald is a true hero,” said Maj. Gen. Francis Donovan, the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division. “McDonald undoubtedly deserves the award,” which is the highest non-combat honor for heroic actions.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better example of what it means to be a Marine.”

Featured Image: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Danny McDonald, scout sniper with 2d Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, is awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 17, 2021. McDonald was awarded for his selfless actions in Surf City, N.C., May 4, 2019, where he risked his own life to save a 10-year-old child from drowning. The child was caught in a rip current that carried him approximately 300 feet from shore.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Elijah Abernathy)

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