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Marine commended for rescuing man from burning home
Yuma Marine Cpl. Vincent P. Saldaña was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal on Wednesday for rescuing a man from a burning home in August.
Saldaña, 21, an aviation ordnance system technician with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, broke down the front door of the burning home in Ontario, Calif., and pulled 80-year-old Willis Huxman to safety.
"I'm very proud of my husband," said his wife of two years, Joanne Saldaña. "It is his nature. He is the type of person who will stop and help you, whether he knows you or not."
A 93-year-old woman, who was later identified as Dorothy Paulson, died in the same fire.
"It's hard to accept that I got one of them out, but couldn't get the other one," Saldaña said. "I wish I could have gotten the lady out alive as well. You don't want to be a hero, you just want to finish what you started."
Saldaña received the medal at a ceremony on a multi-purpose field at the Marine Corps Air Station before about 200 other Marines from Saldaña's squadron.
"Cpl. Saldaña risked life and limb to save the life of another human being. He was willing to risk his life," said Col. Clyde Woltman, commanding officer of Marine Aviation Group-13. "I am proud to be here today to present this award to Cpl. Saldaña. And I am proud he is among our ranks. That should be the case with you as well Marines."
The incident happened on Aug. 8, while Saldaña, was on leave and visiting his hometown of Ontario.
According to Saldaña, his wife was a bridesmaid in a wedding that was to take place that day and he was on his way to meet her when he came upon the fire.
"Vincent was running late so at first I didn't believe him when he told me," his wife said. "I knew he wasn't kidding when he told me he was on his way to the hospital to get stitches in his finger."
According to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, which reported the fire, the fire department received a report of a a person possibly trapped inside a burning home in the 900 block of West Del Rancho Court at 12:59 p.m.
Saldaña said he was driving in the area when he saw smoke from the fire. He followed the smoke, preceding firefighters to the home.
"I jumped out of my car and ran over to the house and asked these three ladies there who were calling 911 what was going on. They said there were two people inside," Saldaña said. "After kicking in the door I saw Huxman standing there so I pulled him out because he was in a daze, covered with soot and had burns on his forehead."
Saldaña tried to re-enter the burning home to rescue the elderly woman still trapped inside, but the flames and heat prevented him from doing so.
Refusing to give up, Saldaña used an axe brought over by a neighbor to chop a hole in the metal garage door, so that he could crawl back inside the home, slicing his finger in the process.
"I sliced my finger," Saldaña said. "But I kept swinging and blood kept gushing out."
The article in the Daily Bulletin reported that drops of what appeared to be blood could be seen splashed on the door. Several drops of blood also were on the concrete driveway leading to the sidewalk.
As Saldaña was attempting to climb through the hole he had made in the garage door a police officer restrained him and wouldn't let him go back inside.
When firefighters arrived, neighbors told them the 93-year-old resident of the house was still inside. Once inside firefighters located her body in three to four minutes, but she died from injuries she suffered in the fire, according to the Daily Bulletin article.
Saldaña said he plans on becoming a firefighter when he gets out of the Corps.
"I feel on top of the world right now," Saldaña said of winning the commendation.