Above and Beyond
Just outside of Cleveland in 2006, a teenager named Daphne was getting ready to take her dog outside. As she opened the garage door to head out, she saw the unthinkable—a bear had stuck its head underneath the door as it opened. "I closed the door and I went back in the house, and I locked the door. He broke through the door," Daphne says.
As the bear broke in, Daphne's mom, Rachel, ran into the room. "He broke the door out of the frame and I was behind the door, so the door knocked me down on the floor," Rachel says. The bear lunged at Rachel and jumped on top of her. "I couldn't do anything. I had 500 pounds on top of me," Rachel says. "I remember his face coming right for my face and he was growling."
Daphne could not reach any of her neighbors and frantically formed another plan. She found a stun gun but there were no batteries. Daphne says she thought no knife was big enough to use for protection, and she couldn't remember the combination to the gun safe in the chaos of the moment.
Then, Daphne went to the refrigerator and got some lunchmeat. "[The bear] wasn't paying attention to it at first, so I had to take it right up to it. I put it up to his face, he smelled it and then I made him follow me into the kitchen," Daphne says. Daphne says she felt a calm come over her because she had finally learned how to control the bear.
As they would learn after the attack, their next door neighbor ran a commercial gaming business with animals—including the bear that was in their house.
Rachel believes that no one else but her daughter could have saved her life that day. "I believe I definitely would not be alive if anyone else had been there. She was born with a special love for animals," Rachel says. "Since she was little, she's just gone outside and caught wild animals. She'll catch a snake in the backyard. She's not your typical girl, and so she doesn't have a fear."
With the car sinking fast, Alena made a frantic 911 call. "I'm in a car and I can't open the door, and the water's coming in and we're sinking," she told the operator. "I don't want to drown!"
As the car filled with water, Alena's grandfather told her to get into the backseat, which was not yet submerged. "Towards the roof there was a little pocket of air and so I tried taking a big breath, and I remember I got air the first time and water the second and then I passed out," she says. "I felt like I was suffocating. I kind of prayed that it wouldn't hurt too much."
As he felt around, he eventually found the doors of the car. He tried three of them, and they were all locked. He surfaced for air after he found each door and called to a friend to find some rocks to break the windows.
Finally, he found that the driver's side door was unlocked and pulled on it until it opened. "I couldn't see anybody," Larry says. "I figure somebody's going to be sitting right here in the front seat and nobody's there."
Sadly, Alena's grandfather did not survive. He was pulled from the water by a firefighter and revived at the scene, but he died soon after.
Alena has a special message for Larry. "You are my hero, and I think that you're a person that would risk your life, basically, to save a stranger and that's really admirable," Alena says. "And you're strong and quick thinking, and without you, I think it could have turned out a lot differently."
When the tornado hit the house, Amy laid on top of Jair and Cole to protect them. Neighbors and rescue workers later arrived to find the house completely leveled. They found the three covered in a pile of fallen bricks. While Jair and Cole suffered just minor injuries, Amy's back had been broken and today she is paralyzed from the waist down.
Had Amy not covered her children, rescue workers say they likely would have died. "My mom saved me and my brother's lives, and she is the biggest hero that I know," Jair says.
Amy says she didn't necessarily think or worry in that moment about saving her children. Instead, her "motherly instincts" kicked in. "I didn't have time to be afraid," she says. "I just had to do what I needed to do."
But she is ready to confront those challenges. "I'm determined to do whatever I can to make life as normal as possible," Amy says. "I'm doing the normal mom things—I'm a homeroom mom, a team mom for the baseball team, and I help out in my son's school." Amy is even learning to drive in a converted, paraplegic-accessible car.
Amy says that her injuries from the tornado—and realization of how fragile life is—have made her more appreciative of what she has. Especially "the simplest things," she says. "I've come to realize that I sleep with one shade opened so when the sun rises, I have to watch it. And, you know, I'll just sit back and watch the kids play a little more."
"I just have to say how much we appreciate the opportunity to be here," Captain James Williamson, commander of Alpha Company, says. "But most importantly, the support that all of America continues to show for our magnificent men and women of the armed forces."
Lance Corporal Fernando Camacho last saw his baby daughter when she was just a month old.
Staff Sergeant Stephen Sotuyo says he couldn't wait to tell his 5-year-old daughter, "I love you."
Jordan, Lance Corporal Dimitrius Naylor's 1 1/2-year-old son, learned to say "Daddy" while his father was away.
Lance Corporal Dustin Pierce is getting married just days after his return!
John Walker, who welcomes his son home, speaks for everyone in America when he says, "We're so proud of him. We love him dearly and we're just grateful he's home safe."
Sergeant Robert Holzinger suffered a shattered left forearm and jaw and massive holes through the left side of his body when a roadside bomb exploded. Corporal Harley Herron was looking for insurgents when a bomb exploded next to him. Corporal Chris Hines was also wounded in a similar explosion. These three Marines were so severely wounded in November 2006 that they had to return to the United States, where they have been recovering.
Sergeant Holzinger and Corporals Herron and Hines all surprise the Alpha Company by joining the special homecoming!
Sergeant Holzinger says recovering while knowing his comrades were still in Iraq was hard—and he's happy that they're all home now. "These are all your brothers. This is your family right here," he says. "It's tough leaving them."