FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
What is a hero? I suppose there could be a large number of descriptions, but mostly I think of it as being someone is able to put their own life in danger in order to save someone else’s life. Locally, here in Tarboro and Edgecombe County we have had a good number of such heroes.
I think it could go without saying that we have had a large number of heroes that emerged from every major war this nation has ever been involved in and it would almost take a rather large book to cover all those stories.
For this column I’m just going to write about two local heroes who had occasion to make the decision to risk their own lives in order to save the lives of others. I knew one who is no longer with us, and I’ve known the other one that still lives here for many years.
First it was James “Rat” Boykin. I never knew how Rat got his nickname, but that’s what it was. Boykin was 35 years old (a telephone engineer) when he saved Antonio Deya, 23, and helped save Paul E. Warren, 24, from drowning after their boat capsized in 16 feet of water in the Pamlico River. Deya was a poor swimmer and needed immediate help to keep from drowning. Warren managed to obtain holds on the boat.
A cut on Deya’s forehead bled profusely. Boykin recovered an empty gasoline can that had been in the boat for Deya to hold on to and keep him buoyant. Still afraid Deya might drown Boykin towed him toward an island through waves of one to two feet. Warren remained with the boat. Boykin towed Deya for 45 minutes, suffering cramps and growing weariness all the way.
Of course, Deya became alarmed at Boykin’s increasingly tiring condition. With Deya’s growing concern it became even more difficult for Boykin to tow him. Finally about 650 feet from the island they came to three foot deep water and managed to wade to shore. This was 1.5 hours after leaving the boat.
Boykin then swam another 1.5 miles to where there were several men in boats and with their help was to rescue Paul Warren. James “Rat” Boykin was severely fatigued, badly sunburned, and had numerous welts from stinging nettles. For Boykin’s heroic actions he was awarded the national Carnegie Medal of Heroism.
I have known Charles R. Dew, my late first wife’s cousin since 1957. Charles was just 15 years old when he was confronted with the choice of risking his own life to save those of others.
Charles helped save Sue H. Braswell, 8, and Gary R. Moore, 9, from drowning at Atlantic Beach, N.C. on June 21, 1962. Sue, a very poor swimmer, and Gary, who could not swim, were caught in a strong undercurrent while playing in the surf in the Atlantic Ocean and were swept into water beyond their depth. As both were carried father from shore, they screamed for help.
Although somewhat tired from pleasure swimming, Charles swam 75 feet and reached Sue, 225 feet from shore, in water six feet deep between waves more than two feet high. He supported Sue until her father reached them with a life ring. Handing Sue to her father, Charles swam 15 feet farther from shore to where Gary was sinking in seven foot deep water. Almost exhausted, Charles wrapped his arms and legs around the piling and told Gary to get on his back. Barnacles on the piling inflicted multiple lacerations on Charles as the waves broke over them, but he maintained his hold. Meanwhile Sue’s, by means of rope and an inflated raft dropped to them by men on the pier, Sue and her father were drawn to wadeable water. Then Charles, with Gary still on his back was drawn to shore on the raft.
Bleeding from cuts caused by barnacles attached to the pier Dew was led away for first aid. Soon after that the Braswell family, from Raleigh, was unable to find Charles Dew. Dew was located the next day working in his father’s garage in Tarboro. Later still, Dew was informed by Associated Press dispatch that he had been acclaimed a winner of the Carnegie Hero Medal and $500.
A very grateful father, George Braswell said, “If it hadn’t been for that boy, my little girl and the child from Greensboro would have drowned.”
So it seems there are times when individuals are placed in positions where they must place their own lives in danger in order to hopefully save someone else’s life. It’s not a position one would ask for, or hope for, but it happens, and that’s when we need heroes to be there and to act. James “Rat” Boykin and Charles R. Dew were placed in those positions and they acted and therefore lives were saved. The families of those saved were naturally extremely grateful for what Boykin and Dew did, and all of us should also be glad that such men as these exist.
(Bob Harper is a Tarboro resident who writes a column of general interest.)