Shining moments: Ignoring the fear

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Miguel Perez had just said goodbye to associates at the Misawa Air Base in Japan on July 24 and was driving away with his wife, Amy, and their four children near the runway when his wife saw an F-16 crash shortly after takeoff.

Fearing for the safety of his family, Brother Perez abruptly stopped his car, jumped out and started running about a quarter-mile toward the crash site. Looking up, he noticed the pilot drifting from the sky in a parachute into the flaming wreckage."I got there pretty quick," he said. "There were flames everywhere. I couldn't see the pilot, but I could hear him screaming."

Brother Perez was led to the location of the pilot by two other men serving in the Japanese defense force who had already arrived.

The flames were hypnotizing, Brother Perez said. "It's not in a human's nature to run into burning flames." But when the pilot started screaming, "It reminded me why I ran out there."

Ignoring the fear, Brother Perez motioned for the help of the two Japanese defense force members. Beating back the flames with jackets, they found the pilot face down, his legs entangled in the parachute cords and on fire. They grabbed his arms, and dragged him from the flames.

The members of the Japanese defense force stripped the pilot of his flight gear while Brother Perez poured water from a nearby puddle onto the pilot's legs.

Brother Perez assured the pilot that he would be all right. Firefighters arrived and quickly doused the pilot with foam, then turned to the plane.

"I would never call myself a hero," Brother Perez said. "That day we were all human. It was human nature that made us care for that pilot. We wanted to see him safe."

For his role in saving the life of a downed pilot, Brother Perez of the Misawa Military Branch, Honshu Japan Military District, was awarded the airman's medal, the highest award given for peacetime heroism. - Shaun D. Stahle

(Another in a series of "Shining Moments." Illustration by Deseret News artist Alex Nabaum.)

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