National Guard Army Sgt. Dennis P. Weichel Jr. was with a convoy in Afghanistan last spring when a group of local children scrambled into the roadway.
Weichel and his comrades in arms leaped from their vehicles to clear the children, lest they be trampled by the armored machines. But when one boy’s enthusiasm led him beneath a mine-resistant vehicle, Weichel dove under to push the youngster out of the way.
Weichel’s son, Nick Weichel, now 11, explained the gravity of his father’s courage: “A boy about my age [was] running to get a shell casing. … He saved the boy, and he didn’t save himself.”
Indeed, Weichel was struck by the vehicle, Rhode Island’s Providence Journal reports, and died from the wounds at a medical facility in Jalalabad.
Nick shared the story of his father’s sacrifice at a breakfast in which the Rhode Island Red Cross honored 10 of the state’s bravest with Red Cross Hero Awards. Nick accepted one of the awards on behalf of his father.
The Journal reports other awards were given to a pair of 18-year-old lifeguards from Stonington, Conn., who helped rescue the lives of seven swimmers caught in a rip current in Westerly, R.I.
Rhode Island State Trooper Roupen Bastajian also received an award for his actions after he finished running in April’s Boston Marathon. Shortly after crossing the finish line, Bastajian watched in horror as the bombs believed to be planted by radicalized Islamic brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev exploded. The Red Cross explains Bastajian recalls assisting several people, including a man with severely injured legs.
Police officers, firefighters, soldiers and Red Cross volunteers rounded out the list of honorees.
“And then there was Earl,” the Journal reports.
Earl is a military dog trained to detect explosives who alerted his master, Lance Cpl. Bradley O’Keefe, to an improvised explosive device, or IED. An Afghan insurgent detonated the device, seriously injuring O’Keefe, but the dog’s actions saved his human’s life.
After returning to the U.S. for treatment, the Red Cross relates, O’Keefe thought he’d never get the chance to thank Earl. But his sister contacted the Rhode Island State Police, where Earl had been reassigned as a bomb-sniffing dog, and O’Keefe and Earl have since been reunited.