Norfolk sailor on run rescues man, child in wheelchair who fell in water near Spirit of Norfolk


Lt. John Miller

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Norfolk sailor saved the life of a man and a wheelchair-bound child earlier this month after they fell into the water near the Spirit of Norfolk ship in downtown Norfolk.

The U.S. Navy says Lt. John Miller, who’s been in the Navy for 9 years, was running along the Elizabeth River Trail around 6 p.m. on June 9 when he turned a corner and saw the man and child on the edge of the seawall. He kept going, but then heard a splash. The man and child were gone, with just the wheelchair left behind.

Miller sprinted over, and asked another jogger to go for help as he jumped several feet down into the water after seeing the man floundering, the Navy said.

He grabbed the two, and a line from a boat bumper and held on, but realized the child was non-verbal. Miller didn’t know how much water the child had ingested, so he chose to swim with the man and child 10-15 feet down the seawall to a ladder.

Lt. John Miller (U.S. Navy photo)

“Perhaps I should have paused and located the nearest ladder or a life ring, but I knew that everything was time critical.

The child and man would be OK, and were out of the water before paramedics arrived.

Miller said he had no hesitation to jump in, but said the real hero was the child’s caretaker, who immediately jumped in to help.

“I cannot actually process the feeling I had — I just felt an immense pressure to act,” he said. “I knew he could not survive the water with his disability, so I had no choice. I did not know the water skills of his guardian, and I could not be sure of any possible injuries or trauma to either of them. I had to act … if one person is missing from that chain of action, it may have turned out badly.”

Miller is a native of Kinsman, Ohio, and lives in downtown Norfolk with his spouse, Taylor, and his dog. He told the Navy that Miller was influenced by from one of his mentors on how to respond in situations like this one.

“At the beginning of my military career, now Major Clayton Jarolimek, USMC, said to ‘always place yourself at the point of friction, where you can maximize your influence on the outcome.’ I try to do that every day in everything that I do. It does not change when I take off my uniform, go home, and enter my local community. At that moment, the point of friction was in the water, so into the water I went.”

“People of strength and in positions of power must always look out and fight for those who cannot defend and protect themselves,” Miller said. “The relationship between the man and the child represents that fundamental truth. One act or event pales in small comparison to the years of selfless love, patience, and care provided to that child.”

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