MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
Leave is time for Marines to take off the uniform and spend a few days with friends or family - to reset, refocus and take care of their personal and mental well-being. It’s deemed an essential requirement to improve morale.
That’s just what Sgt. Nathan A. Hanbury planned to do on leave with his wife in Panama City Beach, Florida, in August 2016.
“I wanted to take my wife to the beach where my family always vacationed and just enjoy some time together,” said Hanbury, an aircraft electrical systems technician with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron [VMFA(AW)] 225, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
What was supposed to be an ordinary day at the beach became a day Hanbury and another teenager visiting the beach will never forget.
The 16-year-old was playing in the water when he was suddenly swept out to sea by the current. Hanbury didn’t think twice about taking action to do all he could to save the boy.
“My body just reacted,” said Hanbury. “I guess it was my training and who I am as a person. I would want to be helped if I was in that situation.”
Hanbury’s wife, Esperita, recalled her husband’s reaction was very quick. “He didn't even think about it for a second. He just jumped in the water to help.”
Hanbury received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a ceremony June 7 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, for his actions on Aug. 10, 2016.
The award is the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the United States Department of the Navy to the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.
According to the citation, Corporal Hanbury, with complete disregard for his own safety, immediately ran into the water … the relentless waves and undertow pushed Corporal Hanbury under the water, disorienting him … Corporal Hanbury continued guiding the boy back to the safety of the shore.
Lt. Col. Richard Allain, the VMFA(AW)-225 commanding officer, said Sgt. Hanbury displays the traits of a warrior.
“The role of the warrior is to sacrifice themselves for other people,” said Allain. “We all hope that we would react in the same way in that instant; that's why we need to be physically fit – to be able to save ourselves and someone else’s life.”
The ceremony was a surprise to Hanbury, who says he’s just a normal guy.
“It’s an amazing, unexplainable feeling,” said Hanbury. “I was very surprised because I’d expect someone else to help me if I was in that situation so to be awarded for it is just awesome.”
“Selflessness is a small thing, they don't make Hollywood movies about it,” said Allain when speaking to Hanbury. “But it’s what really matters. I don't think it takes much convincing for you to feel it in your gut to know that it was the right thing that you did.”