At first he thought it was just another child playing in the water, but he quickly realized the screams were a plea for help.
“I realized the screaming was becoming more and more frequent and a lot louder, and a crowd was gathering at the beach. I got up to see what was going on and I saw him struggling out in the water,” McDonald said in a Marine Corps press release.
“I immediately sprinted across the sand and dove into the water.”
Swimming out roughly 300 feet into the surf, he found the child was having a seizure while trapped in the rip current, the press release said.
Putting the child on his chest, the Marine fought against the current to get the child safely to dry land.
Once ashore the boy was assessed by a Navy corpsman who happened to be there, while other Marines called emergency services.
The boy ultimately was fine, solely thanks to the bravery of McDonald, eyewitness said, according to the release.
“If not me, then who,” said McDonald. “That’s what it boils down to. I would do it to anyone in any situation and I would hope someone would help me if I’m ever in trouble.”
In honor of his efforts McDonald, a scout sniper currently assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, stationed on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the service’s highest noncombat medal for heroic actions.
“It exemplifies what it means to be a Marine,” Capt. Walter Graves, company commander of Weapons Company, 2/6, said in the March 17 release. “The initiative, fearlessness in the face of danger and hardship, it’s exactly what we want all Marines to do,”
“We have all of these characteristics that define Marines, our honor, our courage, and our commitment. Sgt. McDonald models each of those characteristics,” he added.
For McDonald the award was shocking and humbling.
“It’s honestly bigger than something I could ever imagine. Just by something happening on the beach, out of the blue, turned into something this big. It’s honestly humbling,” McDonald said about the award in the press release.
“I’m super honored for everyone to show up in support and (thankful to) the people who presented the award and to the people involved pushing this up all the way it went. I greatly appreciate it,” he added.