1958 BHS Grad Honored For Saving Boy From Drowning

Originally published May 10, 2011
By Megan Eckstein
Frederick News-Post Staff

Photo by Bill Green
Jack Severn holds two photos showing the water he jumped into to rescue a little boy who fell in Carroll Creek near College Avenue last month. He was honored by the Department of Maryland Marine Corps League with a Heroism Medal at its annual convention in Ocean City over the weekend.
Jack Severn didn't need any recognition for saving a little boy who fell into Carroll Creek a few weeks ago -- he was just happy he could help.

So when the Department of Maryland Marine Corps League surprised the 71-year-old with a Heroism Medal at its annual convention in Ocean City over the weekend, and friends started calling to congratulate him, Severn was taken aback.

"I was quite honored and surprised, thanks to my wife," he said, explaining that his wife has been telling everyone about what he did even if he didn't feel comfortable boasting about his own lifesaving actions.

Severn, of New Market, was at Baker Park with his wife, Janet, and granddaughter, Sydney, 4, in mid-April. They were coming from the playground and noticed four young boys, maybe 7 or 8 years old, walking back and forth along a wall in Carroll Creek, around the area where it passes under College Avenue. Severn told his wife it looked like a dangerous situation -- the water level was much higher than usual and flowing over the wall because of the recent heavy rain -- but a young woman was nearby to keep an eye on the boys. Severn said he turned away for a minute, and suddenly the woman started yelling, "You're all right, stand up, stand up," he said.

"So I turned around, and I saw the little boy. He had fallen in right at the wall," Severn said. "He just kept treading, and he went under again, and that's when I said to my wife, I gotta go get him because I don't think he's going to make it."

Severn, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall, said the water was up to his shoulders, cold and moving very rapidly. He swam out to the boy, in the middle of the creek, and told him to hang on.

"When he grabbed my neck, he grabbed it so tight, he wasn't going to let go," Severn said. "But I was just glad I was there."

Severn hoisted the boy up on the wall to safety despite the water pushing him back down, and Severn climbed out of the creek.

"They went their way, and we went our way," he said, saying he never caught the boy's name or gave his own contact information to the woman. The woman wrapped the boy in the blanket she had been sitting on, and Severn hopped in his car to go change into dry clothes. He thought that was the end of the story.

But Janet Severn contacted the Marine Corps League, where Jack is a member of the Mount Airy Detachment and a former statewide commandant. She explained the whole story, and they agreed to surprise him. The Marine Corps League's national commandant attended the conference and personally gave the medal and certificate to Severn, a retired Department of Energy graphic artist who served in the Marine Corps in 1962.

Looking back on the lifesaving action he took, Severn said he probably should have had his wife call 911 just in case.

"I'm 71 years old. I didn't realize how old I was till I came out of the water," he said, laughing.

But he doesn't regret his actions; Severn said there is just something in him that made him run to the little boy.

"I didn't even think. I just saw his eyes. They were real big, and I could tell he was getting really tired," Severn said. "The water was cold, and I could tell he couldn't swim, and I knew it was way over his head, and I didn't even think."