Saving your fellow man — July 3, 2011

Spc. Willy Smith Jr. received the Soldier’s Medal, the military’s highest peacetime award for heroism, for risking his life entering a blazing building to save 35 German citizens from an apartment fire on July 3, 2011.

Walking home in the early-morning hours after attending a social event, Spc. Willie Smith Jr., assigned to 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and a friend noticed a building engulfed in flames in Böblingen. After directing his friend to call the German authorities, Smith next did something that he said was instinctive on his part.

“I ran up and down three or four stories to inform the people of what was going on,” Smith said. “I just wanted to ensure I got everyone out of that building.”

Going door-to-door, he attempted to alert the sleeping residents of the fire. By the time the fire department and Polizei arrived, most of the residents were evacuated, but the crowd mentioned there was still an elderly couple inside.

Smith ran back inside the building along with two members of the Polizei to retrieve the couple from harm. “The gentleman did not want to leave his wife because she had problems walking, so he stayed in the building with her,” Smith said.

Moving through thick smoke, Smith and the rescue team located the couple, who were disoriented and having trouble getting out of bed. He took control of the handicapped, elderly gentleman and escorted him down the stairs, while the other rescue team members led the elderly woman to safety.

Smith mentioned his motivation for going into the blazing building was that he didn’t want to see anyone get hurt.

“It’s inside of everyone to want to help other people,” Smith said. “When I did it, I didn’t give any second thought about it.”