‘On Their Last Legs’

Native Coast Guardsman Helps Save Two Lives

Lt. Phillip McNamara of the United State Coast Guard and his Honor Guard unit saved two people’s lives in Utah. McNamara, a Bemus Point native, graduated from Maple Grove High School in 2001. Submitted photo

Phillip McNamara and his United States Coast Guard unit did not hesitate when two people fighting to stay above water screamed for help.

“It’s more of a mindset and character of a Coast Guardsman to be ready and willing to help in those situations,” said McNamara, a Bemus Point native, of his unit’s actions that saved two lives on July 27.

McNamara has been a member of the Coast Guard for 12 years. He was born and raised in Chautauqua County and graduated from Maple Grove High School in 2001.

He served as a court deputy for the Sheriff’s Office and a Westfield police officer.

McNamara, the officer in charge, and his Coast Guard Honor Guard unit had been sent to Ogden, Utah, to provide funeral honors for an active duty Coast Guardsman.

The group, after providing their services, were just finishing some leisure time at the Willard Bay Reservoir. They returned their boat rental and were returning to their vehicles when they heard distress calls coming from the nearby water.

“‘Call 911,'” McNamara recalled hearing.

After a brief scan of the water, the Honor Guard team discovered two individuals struggling to keep their heads above water. Two males, unequipped with life preservers, appeared to have capsized their kayaks and were frantically calling for assistance about 40 yards from shore. McNamara said the two appeared to be continually falling below the water and bouncing back up, only briefly, to yell for help.

“They were on their last legs,” McNamara said.

McNamara, who was on the phone with his wife at the time, dropped his cellphone and, in his mind, did what any Coast Guardsman would do in that scenario. The officer in charge jumped into the Utah reservoir in pursuit of the two people in need.

While swimming, McNamara briefly looked behind him. Trailing were six members of his Honor Guard unit who had done just as he had. The unit had only been working together for eight weeks, McNamara noted.

“The fact that they followed me in the water without question and without hesitation was really amazing,” he said.

The unit arrived at the two struggling males just in time. Acting quickly, each Coast Guard member began to assist the two individuals. The younger male was secured and safely brought to shore by McNamara’s unit. The older male, however, was struggling the most and accidentally began pulling one of the Coast Guardsman under water several times. After swimming more than half way to shore, the distressed man announced that his legs were cramping and could not swim any farther.

McNamara and his servicemen calmed the man and instructed him to let his legs float. McNamara then pulled the man in a rescue swim the rest of the way to the shore where other members of his unit had secured the scene and called 911.

Asked if not for his team’s effort would the two men have drowned, McNamara said “absolutely.”

While the all members have received basic training, McNamara said none of the Honor Guard members have received any “intense training.” But the officer in charge said having the Coast Guard mindset was enough.

“It all just kind of kicked in when we needed it,” he said.