The clouds were so thick that Marine Cpl. Aidan J. Meyler-McAuliffe couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Meyler was working off duty as a security guard aboard a ferry more than a mile off Daufuskie Island, South Carolina fighting its way through rain and waves up to 6-feet.
Suddenly, the crew spotted a figure floating in the churning Atlantic. It was a woman, only partially conscious, tossing in the water.
Meyler, who had recently graduated from the Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival course, reached for life jacket, but only got one strap around his neck before diving in.
The single strap didn’t hold.
“I am an extremely dense individual and do not float,” Meyler told Task & Purpose. “So as soon as I went in, I went under, and when I came back up, I did not have that life jacket on.”
An electrician stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Meyler said he did not think about the dangers of entering the water despite the thunder, lightning and high waves.
In fact, he was not thinking much at all.
“It really was kind of just a reaction,” said Meyler, of Service Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion at Parris Island. “Towards the end when we were getting her out, I kind of realized the gravity of the situation. And there were a couple of realizations of, ‘wow, this could have gone really, really south.’ Or, ‘this can still go really, really south for myself and her and people on the ferry that were helping me out.’”
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Meyler swam to the woman and saw that she had turned purple from hypoxia, or low blood oxygen levels.
“I had never seen a human being that color before. That was alive, anyway,” Meyler said. “That was the first tell-tale sign that she was hypoxic. That means her blood oxygen levels are extremely low, and that’s what caused that color. In very mild cases, people’s lips turn blue, but her skin was purple.”
The woman was also shivering and cold to the touch, a sign that she was fighting hypothermia.
“She was definitely older; I would say around 60s, maybe early 70s,” Meyler said. “If you’re not a 20-year-old, the odds that you’re making it through that are very low.”
Though she was not fully conscious, when Meyler grabbed and gently shook her, she was able to talk to him.
“Funny enough, she just realized that I had blue eyes,” Meyler said. “That was the thing that she immediately gravitated towards. She kind of came to and said, ‘You have blue eyes.’ Yes I do.”
Tossed in the rough seas, Meyler had a hard time swimming back to the boat while holding onto the woman. He said he forced himself to slow down and make corrections as he swam, using precision and safety that the emergency required.
Still, he said, getting back to the boat was somewhat easier than the Marine Corps swim course he had just completed because he was not wearing his utility uniform and boots.
He managed to bring the woman back to the boat and the crew pulled them both out of the water. Meyler then took her to the driest spot on the boat and attended to her for about 45 minutes.
Meyler dried off the woman, covered her with some of the passengers’ sweatshirts and beach towels, and told nearby passengers to keep her extremities warm.
“I personally put her head in my lap for body heat,” Meyler said. “I had one person hold each extremity – one person holding one hand; another holding another; and then there was a woman holding her feet,” Meyler said.
When the boat arrived at the nearest dock, emergency medical technicians took charge of the woman’s care.
Meyler said he tried to visit the woman in the hospital the next day, but he was told she had already been released with a minor concussion. Her vital signs were good and she was able to walk out of the hospital.
For his bravery Meyler was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal on Aug. 7, a Marine Corps news release says. He was presented the award at Parris Island, by Col. Gregory R. Curtis, commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion.
“Cpl. Meyler is a great example of a Marine,” Curtis said. “As a representation of the Marine Corps his actions are one of those things that we strive for.”
Meyler said he is honored to receive the award, but he added that he wasn’t trying to get “chest candy” when he jumped into the water to save the woman’s life.
“What I feel good about is that there is somebody that isn’t dead, and the icing on the cake is that I was recognized for it,” Meyler said. “So, it was just something to feel good about it.”