Fort Drum soldier Sergeant Jacob Perkins was awarded the Soldier's Medal Tuesday afternoon at the installation. The medal is given to soldiers for heroism outside the battlefield. Sergeant Perkins came to the aid of a group of Canadian tourists in July, when their tour bus collided with a semi trailer on the Thruway in Waterloo, New York, between Syracuse and Rochester.
Several hundred soldiers gathered at an auditorium on Fort Drum Tuesday afternoon to watch the ceremony. A letter from Secretary of the Army and former north country Congressman John McHugh was read aloud, giving a brief overview of Sergeant Jacob Perkins's actions on July 22. Then the commander of the 10th Mountain Division, Major General Mark Milley, pinned the Soldier's Medal onto the sergeant's uniform.
“There were wounded outside the bus, strewn about, in a variety of states of disbelief and shock, and many, many were injured,” said Gen. Milley. “The back of the bus was completely engulfed in flames, and Sgt. Perkins heard someone say, ‘They're still in there.’ And in an instant, without regard to his own life, he entered a burning bus that was full of smoke, and he started getting people out.”
After helping five people out of the bus, Perkins returned, despite the flames.
“He searched for any remaining survivors,” said Gen. Milley. “And he couldn't see, so he had to feel for them, seat by seat.”
Milley said had there been bullets flying on a battlefield at that moment, Perkins would be getting the Medal of Honor.
Perkins also teamed up with the leader of the tourist group to conduct a head count and move passengers away from the fire. When family members needed to get to a hospital, Perkins took them himself.
After the ceremony, Perkins was shy and terse, saying that he just did what any soldier would do in the same circumstances.
“I guess sometimes I think, I don't know, ‘why didn't I think?’,” said Sgt. Perkins. “But the Army has me trained to be ready for anything, unusual circumstances, and I was just glad that it actually kicked in and I was there to help.”
First Sergeant Steven Johnson is one of Perkins's superiors.
“We do everything to stay away from fire,” he said. “You know, it's nothing specific we train for. He said his training took over. I think a lot of that is the calm, the being a leader under fire. Whether it's a fire, or whether it's direct fire from a weapons system, it's being able to be calm in that circumstance and make sound decisions, and that's what he did.
Perkins joins just over 18,000 soldiers who have been awarded the Soldier's Medal since its inception in 1926.