An Air Force veteran and longtime Mountain View resident is finally getting recognized for saving the lives of a father and his three sons from rapidly rising waters and 115-mph winds during a hurricane in Puerto Rico.
Juan C. Aranda Jr. was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for his actions nearly 57 years ago at a ceremony at Moffett Field on July 15.
Aranda, a former radio operator for the Air Force was formally recognized for the actions he took to save four lives back in August of 1956. However, at the time, Aranda nearly received court martial, as he chose to leave his post without permission.
The day of the rescue, Aranda was stationed in his native Puerto Rico as Hurricane Santa Clara was bearing down on the island. Initially, Aranda said, he was simply worried about his family, who lived in a nearby town. As reports of high winds and flooding continued to stream in over the radio, he and a fellow airman went AWOL -- breaking curfew and heading to Aguadilla to check on loved ones.
As it turned out, Aranda's family was safe, but on the way back the two men encountered the father and his three sons trapped by rising water and hanging on to a palm tree, with water rising all around them.
According to Aranda, the decision to jump in after the man and his boys came just as easily as his decision to leave the base. In fact, he said, it wasn't much of a decision at all. "It was instinct," he said.
His superiors were none too pleased to learn that Aranda decided to leave the base without authorization. However, Aranda ultimately was honorably discharged in 1961 and told "the wheels are rolling for an award" for his brave actions.
But that award never came. Although Aranda periodically inquired about it and the Voice in 2000 wrote about his forgotten act of heroism, the Air Force never reached out to formally recognize Aranda for risking his life to save four others.
That is until Congresswoman Anna Eshoo got wind of the story and got the long-stalled wheels rolling again toward officially commemorating Aranda's act of bravery.
Aranda said he was honored to receive the award.