Honoring a humble hero

Presentation of award

NEW YORK - Capt. James McPherson (right), Chief of Staff of the First Coast Guard District, presents Jonathan Pearlroth (left), of Westhampton, N.Y., with the Silver Lifesaving medal during a ceremony held at Coast Guard Station Shinnecock, N.Y., Saturday, July 30, 2011. Other recipients of the award include Chester Nimitz and George S. Patton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

Written by Lt. j.g. Erin Dixon

It takes a split second for the routine to turn life-threatening, for confidence to turn to fear and for an average person to become a hero.

In October 2009 John Singer was fishing off the south shore of Long Island, N.Y., when he hooked a bluefish – one that wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The powerful fish dove under the boat and tangled the line on the outboard prop. When Singer reached over the side to untangle his line he lost his grip and plunged into the 56-degree water. As his boat drifted beyond his reach, Singer could only be certain of one thing – he was all alone.

Singer began treading water, peeling off the layers of clothing that were weighing him down. Without a life jacket or dry suit his clothes were his only line of defense against hypothermia, which quickly began to set in.

After nearly an hour struggling to stay afloat, Singer’s legs began to cramp. Without a whistle or any other way to attract attention Singer began screaming for help.

From the shore, approximately 200 yards away, Jonathan Pearlroth was working in his yard when his neighbor pointed out a man in the water.

Pearlroth dialed 911, passed the phone to his neighbor and rushed into the breaking surf.  By the time he was waist deep he realized he wouldn’t be strong enough to swim out and pull Singer back to shore. Pearlroth looked to the crowd gathering on the shore for a flotation device. Someone tossed him a small boat fender and Pearlroth fought his way towards the drowning man.

When Pearlroth arrived, Singer’s skin had a bluish tint and he was unable to move his legs. Barely afloat, his first words were, “Thank you, thank you.”

Waves crashed over both Singer and Pearlroth, pushing them under the water. Together they clung to the fender and the hope that someone would soon come to their rescue.

After approximately 10 minutes in the water together, the men saw a tow boat. Pearlroth pulled himself onto the boat and the boat captain helped him pull Singer out of the water – a difficult task given that Singer was 6 foot 3 inches, and 250 pounds.

Once on the boat deck and in the chilly fall air, Singer went into cardiac arrest just as a boat crew from Coast Guard Station East Moriches arrived on scene. One of the Coast Guardsmen jumped onto the tow boat and administered CPR.  The Coast Guard escorted the tow boat to Station East Moriches where emergency services personnel were waiting.

On July 30, 2011, Pearlroth humbly accepted the Silver Lifesaving Medal, presented by Capt. James McPherson, chief of staff for the First Coast Guard District.

The room was full of his family, friends and Coast Guard members from Sector Long Island Sound and Station Shinnecock. The room listened in attentive silence to the account of Pearlroth’s heroic actions.  Jonathan Pearlroth looked at his mother, wife and three children before stating, “It really wasn’t a big deal. It was an easy decision. I knew I’d never forgive myself if I just sat back and let that man drown.”