PEARL HARBOR – A recent Plainfield East High School graduate is being honored by the U.S. Navy for bravery after risking his life to rescue a man from drowning in Hawaii.
Navy Fireman, Machinists Mate Striker Joe Lewicki, a 2013 graduate, was presented with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his actions off duty on Sept. 13. He received the honors Sept. 18 from his captain, Commander Timothy Poe.
The medal is awarded for "meritorious service or achievement in a combat or non-combat situation based on sustained performance or specific achievement of a superlative nature," according to the Navy website.
"I was ecstatic," said Lewicki, a machinist mate on the U.S.S. Santa Fe submarine in Pearl Harbor. "It feels good to do something and get rewarded for it."
Lewicki said he had the weekend off from duty and went swimming with a friend at Sandy Beach on Oahu.
There was a weather advisory in effect, but Lewicki and his friend didn't know about it. While out swimming, he saw a man bobbing up and down in the waves about 30 yards away, next to a rocky area known for having large rip currents.
"I look over and his hands are waving and he's going under," Lewicki said. "I said 'Holy cow! This guy is drowning,' and I just went. It was an immediate reaction."
Lewicki reached the man and saw him floating in the middle of the water. So he dove and brought him back up, using rescue strokes he learned while in the Boy Scouts and through Navy SEAL air rescue training.
He tried to get the attention of the beach's lifeguards, but they couldn't hear him. Fortunately, two men on boogie boards saw him and met Lewicki halfway.
"We put him on the boogie board, but he kept on slipping off," Lewicki said. "He was going into shock, shaking and didn't have a pulse. I had to keep diving down to get him."
Lewicki said after 15 minutes of swimming, someone saw what was happening and alerted the lifeguards, who came out to help the four men. They took the man ashore while Lewicki struggled to get himself back to shore.
"All I remember then was I kept throwing up," he said. "I couldn't breathe and I was light-headed. I may have had water in my lungs. All the attention was on the man unconscious on the beach. But somebody realized I was there and helped me."
The next day he was checked at a local hospital and cleared.
"My first reaction, from a mother's perspective, was, 'Oh Joe do you really think you should have risked your life like that?'" said his mother, Patty Lewicki. "After talking with my husband, he told me that Joe wouldn't have done anything differently. We couldn't have been more proud."
Joe Lewicki shared photos of his award on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
"I wasn't expecting a medal," Joe Lewicki said. "It was just the fact I was able to save someone's life that was enough a reward for me."