SARANAC LAKE — The U.S. Army recently awarded a Saranac Lake man the Soldier's Medal, the highest honor a soldier can receive in a non-combat situation.
The award stems from an incident last year in Hawaii, where Staff Sgt. Cameron Grimone, 27, had been stationed since the spring of 2009.
He and his wife, Emily Grimone, 24, were showing off the island to another local man serving in the Army, Lt. Joseph Fontana of Saranac Lake, who was on leave from Iraq.
That's when a terrible accident occurred right before their eyes.
The three of them were driving back from snorkeling when a fairly old, single-cab Toyota pickup raced past them at about 85 or 90 miles an hour, Staff Sgt. Grimone said in a phone interview with the Press-Republican.
As the truck pulled ahead and reached the crest of the next hill, one of the tires snapped off, pulling the vehicle into a dirt embankment. It rolled three times and then burst into flames, he said.
The driver and his passenger were both ejected, and the driver's legs were trapped underneath the truck.
MEDALS OF VALOR
Staff Sgt. Grimone slammed on the brakes. He and Fontana, 27, jumped out, and Mrs. Grimone called for help.
As huge flames shot out of the truck, they freed the man by rocking the truck back and forth.
Staff Sgt. Grimone grabbed the man's legs, and Fontana got his shoulders. They dragged him about 40 feet away and monitored his pulse until emergency services arrived.
Sadly, the man died. The woman who'd been with him survived, however.
On Aug. 7, 2010, Staff Sgt. Grimone and Fontana were awarded the Civilian Medal of Valor by the Honolulu Police Department.
The mayor and the chief of police attended the ceremony, but unfortunately, Fontana couldn't be there. He was back in Iraq by that time.
Staff Sgt. Grimone was eventually deployed to Iraq, as well. And it was there on March 4 that the general of the 25th Infantry Division presented the Soldier's Medal to him.
"It was moving," Staff Sgt. Grimone said. "It was a huge honor. I didn't realize how big the award was."
He appreciated the honor but said he was just doing what came naturally at the time.
"I just did my best to help this gentleman out. I wish the event never happened, but (the award) was a huge honor."
It was also bittersweet, Staff Sgt. Grimone said later; he just wishes the driver had survived
ON McHUGH'S DESK
His father, Sam Grimone, 61, of Saranac Lake, remembered how upset his son was when he described the situation.
He was bothered that so many people drove by and took pictures with cell phones.
"That bothered me, too," Mr. Grimone said.
However, he is extremely proud of his son and all the other men and woman who serve their country, he said.
The company commander from his son's former unit called to tell him the news. He said the award was sitting on the desk of the Secretary of the Army John McHugh, the former congressman of the 23rd District, where his son was raised.
The elder Grimone said the award could conceivably help change his son's future.
But right now, Staff Sgt. Grimone is focused on completing his deployment, which is over this fall.
He eventually wants to finish his bachelor's degree and settle down in the North Country with his wife.
Fontana is now on active duty in Fort Lewis, Washington.
"He is expected to receive the same award but at a later date," said Grimone. "He has a different command, so his was placed much later."