Often, the medal is awarded to soldiers who risk their lives to save other people. No, the Army said. So last weekend, the 82nd Airborne Division sent a colonel and his entourage from Fort Bragg, N.C., to find Matt Blain.
"It was almost like a movie," Mennes says, describing Blain's actions on Feb. 28, 2010, in the Guzara District of Afghanistan.
A 30,000-pound Army vehicle flipped into a river swollen with rain. One man was thrown out the gun turret. By the time Staff Sgt. Blain arrived, running full-tilt, other soldiers were scrambling down the embankment to try to help.
Not Blain. Purple Heart
Jumping into danger runs in the Blain family.
Blain's grandfather George Blain jumped into France the night before D-Day with the 101st Airborne "Pathfinders." Like his grandfather, Blain eventually became a paratrooper. And like his grandfather, Blain earned a Purple Heart.
"The Humvee blew up," says Blain, 25 and now a husband, dad and student at Azusa Pacific University. Blain sprinted to the scene, shedding gear as he ran. Drowning.
Blain then sprinted along the riverbank to the submerged MRAP — and dived in.
Within a few seconds, black water filled the truck and, from underwater, he was unable to push the 500-pound door straight up to escape.
No, the Army said. The medal
That's how Matt Blain grew up in Mission Viejo.
At 11, he cliff-jumped 25 feet into water.
The medal connects Blain to Gen. Colin Powell who received it in 1968 for rescuing his comrades in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. "It's almost too much to take in," says Blain's mom, Suzzi Blain. The medal hasn't changed him.