Darrell Buller, Chris Linton and Caleb Pugh should have been working on aircraft at Joint Base Lewis-McChord last Saturday morning.
Instead the Washington Army National Guard specialists were in Lacey trying to save the life of a World War II veteran who collapsed in the entryway of the Cabela’s store.
For a while, it looked like they would get seriously chewed out for skipping out on their duties to go shopping.
Instead they’ll get medals.
After the man collapsed in the outdoor outfitter on Nov. 7, Pugh quickly started chest compressions. He directed Buller and Linton to get the defibrillator to shock the man’s heart. They continued until emergency responders arrived and took the man to the hospital.
“You kind of set your mind into work mode and you do your job until it’s over,” Pugh said.
Two days later the men were told the veteran had died at the hospital.
“Being able to be there with him at the end, it was an honor,” said Pugh, who’s been in the Guard for six years. He also works a civilian job as a mechanical technician at Toray Composites in Frederickson.
In 40 years, I’m only going to remember the 92-year-old veteran.
Caleb Pugh, specialist Washington Army National Guard
Aware of the man’s age and the length of time he was unconscious before they arrived, Pugh was realistic about his chances of survival.
The 26-year-old finds solace knowing he shared a connection with the veteran through their respective military service.
“I would like to think that that would be how he would want to go, with his brothers by his side,” Pugh said.
The three Guardsmen lingered at Cabela’s, offering support to employees who sought them out.
The reception they received when they returned to JBLM wasn’t as receptive.
“Because we were gone for so long, it was obvious we were going to be in trouble,” said Buller, who also spent four years of active duty as a combat engineer.
Standing with his arms across his chest, Sgt. Greg Sullivan made it clear excuses wouldn’t fly.
“I told them ‘Listen up guys, I’m Irish, I’ve heard plenty of stories, I’m not buying this,’ ” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, who is the acting detachment sergeant, affectionately refers to the men as the “Three Stooges.” They’re hard workers, but need to be reminded to stay on task from time to time.
“We would be voted most likely to be dancing around during work hours,” joked Buller.
Sullivan knew the men were out celebrating Buller’s last weekend with the Guard before being honorably discharged. He didn’t mind they wanted to mark the occasion, but they should have told someone, he said.
Because we were gone for so long, it was obvious we were going to be in trouble.
Darrell Buller, specialist Washington Army National Guard
“I was going to ream them so bad,” Sullivan said.
Then he heard what happened.
“It’s kind of difficult to be mad after the fact,” he said.
The men received a written reprimand for being late. It will go in their file but is ultimately a slap on the wrist.
The men will receive state Commendation Medals for their life-saving attempts, Sullivan said.
Pugh and Buller said they don’t want the attention. Instead store employees and first responders who helped the man deserve the credit, they said.
Pugh said the veteran who died is the hero people should recognize.
And he shrugs off the minor discipline he and his friends were given.
“In 40 years,” he said, “I’m only going to remember the 92-year-old veteran.”