By Staff Sgt. Daryn Murphy, 18th Wing Publilc Affairs
/ Published November 05, 2020
Airman 1st Class Leonard Cantrell Jr., an executive communications technician with the 18th Communications Squadron, helped save the lives of a woman and her child while swimming in Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryn Murphy)
Most people think heroes wear capes and have secret identities. In reality, we are all mere mortals capable of amazing feats when situations call for great courage, skill and strength.
Recently, Airman 1st Class Leonard Cantrell Jr., an executive communications technician with the 18th Communications Squadron, chiseled his name into the Hall of Heroes wall by saving the life of two locals who nearly died at an Okinawa waterfall.
“My friends and I were hiking at Tataki waterfall that day,” said Cantrell. “I didn’t want to get into the water because I prefer to enjoy the scenery and take photos. As I was making my way around the side of the waterfall I noticed a woman and her two small children moving toward the deep part of the water.”
Cantrell stated he continued walking but slowed down as the situation seemed strange to him.
“I knew the situation they were in could be dangerous so I slowed down to make sure they were safe,” he explained. “The small boy decided to go back to the shore however, the mother and her daughter decided to try and swim to the other side. As I watched she began to get more and more tired. Her head was dipping under the water and her movements were becoming erratic.”
It was the moment when Cantrell sprang in to action.
“The daughter started to cry out while the mother began to really struggle, so I made the decision to swim out to them and get them back to safety,” Cantrell said. “I quickly got to them and gently pulled them back toward the shallow water and rocks where the mother regained her footing. I let the mom catch her breath and made sure her and her daughter weren’t in shock. I could tell both of them knew they were safe.”
Despite the language barrier, Cantrell understood the mother’s appreciation for what he did.
“I just reacted to the situation because I could see it was going wrong,” he explained. “I think the mother just misjudged the distance and also didn’t think about the extra weight of her daughter pulling on her while she swam. It’s understandable to make a mistake like that especially when you’re in a place like a waterfall.”
After confirming they were both safe and not in shock, Cantrell said goodbye to the mother and daughter.
“I wasn’t afraid when I swam out to save them because I am confident in my swimming abilities and I knew my friends nearby and could help if I needed assistance,” Cantrell said. “Honestly, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and am so happy that the situation worked out. It could have been really bad and the falls are pretty far from civilization. We are all neighbors at the end of the day so it’s important to remember to be a positive ambassador wherever we go and help out if needed. I’m thrilled that the family is safe. That’s most important.”
Cantrell also had advice for members who want to get out and explore Okinawa’s natural beauty.
“My advice for new members who come here is to always use the buddy rule whenever you’re out exploring Okinawa,” he said. “That rule will save your life. I always go places with people who I trust and never do any activities like swimming, hiking or diving by myself. Things can get dangerous pretty quick if you are alone and unprepared for what may happen. But if you follow that rule you will really enjoy your time here.”