It was a beautiful June day in Contra Pria, Italy. Families enjoyed a picnic together, and the refreshing water served as a welcome refuge from the heat and humidity of the last weekend leading into summer.
This peaceful scene completely changed in the blink of an eye.
“This weekend I was with my family at a local swimming hole [in Contra Pria]. A local national jumped into the frigid water from a cliff and it quickly became apparent he could not swim. All of a sudden, a fully clothed ‘Sky Soldier’ jumped into the water from an adjacent cliff and saved the man by swimming him to the shore,” stated 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) Battalion Commander LTC Jim Keirsey in a message to 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander COL James Bartholomees.
“That Sky Soldier was [Michigan Army National Guard] LTC John Hall.”
When LTC Hall and his family arrived at a local swimming area in the Dolomite Mountains early that Sunday morning, LTC Keirsey and his family, who were picnicking and swimming with some family friends in the remote swimming area, greeted them. They introduced their children to each other, who then played in the beach areas together.
“The boys were taking a break when I decided I would climb up on the cliff to see what the divers were exploring,” LTC Hall said. “Just as they swam away, four Italian men appeared above the river on the opposite cliff. They seemed to be daring each other to jump. Two immediately jumped and then challenged their friends. One chose not to jump at all, while the other hesitated, but after a few minutes I saw him falling through the air.”
When the man hit the deep frigid water, LTC Hall said, he began to thrash about, yelling for his friends to help as he repeatedly went under water. The two men who jumped in earlier attempted a rescue, but as they swam up to him, the scene turned into what appeared to be a fight or wrestling match in the water.
As the scene developed, LTC Hall could see from his vantage point on the opposite cliff that the struggling man was drowning and would possibly drown his companions, as they all began to go under water together.
“I jumped from the cliff,” LTC Hall said. “I swam over to the three men, firmly wrapped my arm around the chin of the drowning man and pulled him onto my hip.
“Once he was safe, I swam over to a rocky outcropping and climbed to verify that he was OK. Still shaking from the experience, the man turned and gave me a hug.”
“LTC Hall jumped, fully clothed, from a cliff to save a drowning local national. That’s good stuff,” LTC Keirsey said.
“This is what we are trained to do, to assess difficult situations and make them better,” said SSG Alexander Henninger, noncommissioned officer in charge of 173rd Airborne Brigade Public Affairs. “We emphasize to our paratroopers the need to take leader initiative, to be agile and disciplined in our responses to any situation. It is about living the Army values every day. This is who we are as American Soldiers.”
LTC Hall, a teacher from Flint, Michigan, was serving a one-year tour of duty as a Sky Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy. This fall, he returned to his classroom, teaching English, history and theater. He is an officer in the Michigan Army National Guard, and both of his daughters serve in the U.S. Army, as do all three of his brothers.
“I am just so glad that someone was there to help him,” LTC Hall said. “After it was over, I couldn’t help thinking [that back in the States] it was Father’s Day. No man should lose his son on Father’s Day.”
By CPT Joseph Legros, Michigan National Guard