A fam­ily tra­di­tion of hero­ism

Teacher re­ceives Carnegie Medal for sav­ing child, like his great-grand­fa­ther did in 1924

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Com­ing to the res­cue of chil­dren in dan­ger ap­pears to run in the fam­ily for North Point High School tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion teacher John Hol­ly­field. So does be­ing awarded with a medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Com­mis­sion.

“I con­tacted the Carnegie to find out if there were two mem­bers of the same fam­ily that had ever re­ceived this, and they said it’s hard to de­ter­mine that,” said Hol­ly­field, an Ac­co­keek res­i­dent. “But it’s pretty un­usual, to have two peo­ple, with sim­i­lar acts, gen­er­a­tions apart.”

James M. Her­mansen of Wid-stoe, Utah, was Hol­ly­field’s great-grand­fa­ther. Ac­cord­ing to the Carnegie Hero Fund

Com­mis­sion’s web­site, on April 17, 1924, Her­mansen at­tempted to stop a team of run­away horses hitched to a wagon car­ry­ing a 10-yearold child.

Her­mansen, 54, at­tempted to grasp the lines at the bit to turn the horses to­ward a fence, but the horses in­stead tram­pled him, pulling the wagon over him. The horses were stopped, though, and the child was un­in­jured, but Hol­ly­field’s great-grand­fa­ther sus­tained se­vere in­juries and died three weeks later.

For his hero­ism, Her­mansen was awarded a Carnegie medal posthu­mously and a grant that helped sup­port his widow and fam­ily.

“I kind of knew about it from fam­ily lore,” Hol­ly­field said. “I knew some­thing had hap­pened, but I didn’t know what the Carnegie medal was.”

The Carnegie Hero Fund Com­mis­sion was formed just 20 years prior, in 1904, by phi­lan­thropist and steel­maker An­drew Carnegie. Carnegie cre­ated the com­mis­sion fol­low­ing a deadly coal mine ex­plo­sion. Two min­ers, heed­less of the dan­ger, rushed in to at­tempt a res­cue and were killed, in­spir­ing Carnegie to cre­ate the com­mis­sion to award acts of civil­ian hero­ism, ac­cord­ing to the web­site.

“Not sel­dom are we thrilled by deeds of hero­ism where men or women are in­jured or lose their lives in at­tempt­ing to pre­serve or res­cue their fel­lows; such the he­roes of civ­i­liza­tion,” Carnegie wrote in the deed of trust form­ing the Hero Fund Com­mis­sion.

The medal is awarded to in­di­vid­u­als who know­ingly risk their lives in an at­tempt to save an­other life. Ap­prox­i­mately 20 per­cent of the medals are awarded posthu­mously, ac­cord­ing to the web­site.

Over 91 years after Her­mansen’s ill-fated res­cue at­tempt, Hol­ly­field was at the Moyaone Com­mu­nity Pool for the Ac­co­keek Swim Team’s Spirit Night. His younger daugh­ter was a mem­ber of the swim team.

At the site was an an­cient pin oak tree, heavy boughs reach­ing to­ward the sky, it’s base mea­sur­ing 56 inches. One huge bough shaded the Moyoane Com­mons, in­clud­ing the chil­dren’s play­ground and pic­nic area.

“It was huge, much larger than any of the trees left around it. Most trees that big had al­ready been cut down for fire­wood,” said Rob Gruwell, a Moyoane res­i­dent who was at the com­mu­nity cen­ter that day. “This was a mon­ster.”

Hol­ly­field said Ana Spruill, adult ed­u­ca­tion in­struc­tional as­sis­tant, heard a crack­ing and pop­ping sound, and shouted a warn­ing.

“I looked up, and saw a 5-foot long crack in the branch. About a minute later, it cracked and popped again, and that’s when I went into alarm mode and cleared the pic­nic grounds,” Hol­ly­field said.

Then he looked back and saw Ashley Gruwell, 6, still sit­ting atop the play­ground slide.

“Ever yone was clear of the area, ex­cept for my daugh­ter,” Gruwell said.

“She was just frozen, I guess from fear, the com­mo­tion, I don’t know what,” Hol­ly­field said.

Hol­ly­field, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, rushed back to the play­ground, grabbed Ashley, and brought her to safety.

“John leapt in like a bolt of light­ning and grabbed my daugh­ter sec­onds be­fore the tree limb came crash­ing down,” Gruwell said.

Sec­onds later, the 80foot branch came crash­ing down on top of the play­ground.

“Crash, boom, bang, it came down and crashed,” Hol­ly­field said. “For­tu­nately, no­body got hurt.”

The next night, when Hol­ly­field and his wife re­turned home, they dis­cov­ered a card on their front porch, writ­ten in a child’s hand­writ­ing: “Dear Mr. Hol­ly­field. Thank you for sav­ing my life. Love Ashley.”

“That’s when I lost it,” Hol­ly­field said.

Hol­ly­field said that after the in­ci­dent, his wife, who knew of Hol­ly­field’s an­ces­tor, looked up the nom­i­na­tion process for the Carnegie Medal. The process it­self is de­tailed, re­quir­ing con­clu­sive ev­i­dence of the threat to the vic­tim’s life, the risk un­der­taken by the res­cuer and the res­cuer’s de­gree of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Ev­i­dence in­clud­ing in­ci­dent re­ports, news­pa­per clip­pings, photos, eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mony and other ma­te­ri­als are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion.

“My wife tried to do it se­cre­tively, but with all the details it needed, she had to let me know, be­cause she needed more in­for­ma­tion,” Hol­ly­field said.

Since its 1904 in­cep­tion, less than 10,000 medals have been awarded. The awards are an­nounced quar­terly. Hol­ly­field was one of 18 re­cip­i­ents an­nounced in Septem­ber. Four of the re­cip­i­ents died dur­ing their act of hero­ism.

The medals are in­di­vid­u­ally minted with the re­cip­i­ent’s name and a brief de­scrip­tion of their act of hero­ism on the re­verse, so Hol­ly­field has yet to re­ceive his, but there will be a pre­sen­ta­tion cer­e­mony when he re­ceives it. The award also comes with a grant; Hol­ly­field in­tends to use some of the grant for Ashley and her older sis­ter.

“We’re just glad no one got hurt, es­pe­cially our daugh­ter,” Gruwell said. “[The Carnegie medal] couldn’t have hap­pened to a more de­serv­ing per­son.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTOS

Above, John Hol­ly­field, a tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion teacher at North Point High School, holds his cer­tifi­cate from the Carnegie Hero Fund Com­mis­sion no­ti­fy­ing him that he is one of 18 medal re­cip­i­ents se­lected in Septem­ber. Be­low, the tree limb that fell on the Moyaone Com­mu­nity Pool play­ground and pic­nic area in 2015.

Pho­to­graph of John Hol­ly­field’s great-grand­fa­ther, James M. Her­mansen of Widt­soe, Utah, who re­ceived a post­hu­mous Carnegie Medal after at­tempt­ing to stop a run­away wagon car­ry­ing a child.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

John Hol­ly­field, tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion teacher at North Point High School, shows the card writ­ten for him by the then-6-year-old girl whom he pulled out of harms way two years ago and for which he was re­cently awarded the Carnegie Medal.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Re­verse side of the Carnegie Medal posthu­mously awarded to James Her­mansen, John Hol­ly­field’s great-grand­fa­ther, de­tail­ing the act of hero­ism that cost him his life.

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