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.
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. He and a fellow airman went AWOL — breaking curfew and heading to Aguadilla to check on loved ones.
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. He jumped in and rescued them.
His superiors were none too pleased to learn that Aranda had gone AWOL. Aranda ultimately was honorably discharged in 1961 and told "the wheels are rolling for an award."
Although Aranda periodically inquired about it, the Air Force never reached out to formally recognize him for risking his life to save four others.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo stepped in and got the long-stalled wheels rolling again toward officially commemorating Aranda's act of bravery. She presented Aranda the medal in front of his family and other dignitaries, including Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian.
Aranda said he was honored to receive the award.