A sad and awful memory in my head is of a neighbor trapped inside of her burning home. The desperate woman was yelling, no she was screaming. Aaaahhh, help me, help me, Aaahhh, please help me……..Then she was silent. The crackling roaring sounds a large fire makes as flames were whipping around in the wind. There were intense and hollow sounds echoing throughout the burning home. What I would not give to have that ever vivid memory erased.
On this early morning I was enjoying a cup of coffee. I saw orange and yellow lights flickering on the wall in the kitchen. I went into the kitchen to see what was causing this. What I saw got my heart racing. The home behind my house was engulfed in flames. The house was about 70 yards from my back door. I woke my wife up and told her to call 911. I raced across my back yard and leaped over the fence. I scrambled about trying to figure out what to do. It was not long before I heard the choking, coughing, screaming pleas for help. I tried to open the back door, it was locked. I tried kicking and since that did not work I plowed my shoulder into the door and I bounced off. It did not give an inch. I saw a crowd standing about 25 feet away. I screamed for someone to help me. No one budged.
Help me, help me, please help me. I heard a muffled cough. Then there was nothing. That silence scared the hell out of me. I looked around for something to break the door down. I grabbed a log next to a BBQ pit. I ran toward the door at full speed. When I hit the door, it burst open with a loud wham! It happened in an instance. The next thing I know, I am encased in an almost solid shield of billowing thick black smoke. I can not see a thing. The adrenalin coursing through my veins made my heart race. I was in shock and overwhelmed. I could feel the heat and smoke burning my mouth, throat and lungs. A dry flaming paste had just engulfed my chest. The first thing I did was drop the log and gag with extreme pain. I got my bearing and tried to look around. I realized that I had accomplished what I was trying to do. I was inside, only to be overcome by the retching pain in my lungs. I had entered in an incorrect manner. Still, I swirled around searching for anything resembling a human. It was like someone had blind folded me and put a dark hood over my head.The lady had to be nearby. Nothing was visible through the smoke. I flailed about with my arms, hands and feet trying to touch her. She had to be near, she just had to be! I had to get some fresh air, or I would soon succumb to the heat and smoke too. With my lungs searing I made it back outside. Even the cool air was painful. I turned around, the entire — and I mean the entire — doorway was engulfed in flames. The fire was grasping for the oxygen with a frenzy. I sat there crying. There was no going back into the house. I gathered myself and yelled at the crowd that had been watching this scene play out. I scolded them for not helping me. With some help maybe the door could have been opened sooner. I could not continue wasting my breath on them. It hurt to breathe. I was still coughing up black phlegm. The fire dept was on scene hosing down the flames that were shooting out of every open crack, window and of course the now open doorway.
That poor lady is still in there. Moments ago she was alive. She had felt the intense pain of the smoke and heat. I knew that feeling. I believe she probably welcomed death at last. I hoped that she had passed out from lack of air. I knew it was hell. I could feel it in my consciousness. Her voice, the sounds that surrounded her shrieks and moans and desperate cries for help were now forever engraved into my brain.
The Navy awarded me the Navy Marine Corps Heroism Medal for my actions. I am not proud of that medal. I would trade it today to have had a better outcome.