Risk of Death in the Line of Duty – Part XX

Laypersons who work as first responders may be holy too



I previously cited individuals who tended patients with incurable, communicable diseases: Joseph Dutton who worked with St. Damien of Molokai, Dr. and Mrs. Harry Blaber, and Dr. Martin Salia who died in 2014.

Others who risk death for the sake of another include fire and police personnel. On March 24, 2018, Catholic convert Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrames of France (1973-2018), a lieutenant colonel in the military reserve and a deputy commander of the local gendarmerie, gave himself as a substitute for a hostage taken by a terrorist. He and his fiancée received the Sacrament of Matrimony a few hours before he expired from gunshot wounds (“Officer Who Traded Places with Hostage, Dies Moments After Marrying,” News.com.au, March 25, 2018).

You should know that a religious order was founded in 1198 A.D. for the express purpose of ransoming Christian captives of Muslims: the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives (O.S.T.). In addition to payment of ransom, the exchange was fraught with the risk of more victims being taken (Stephen Beale, “Ransoming for Christ: The Story of Two Daring Religious Orders,” Catholic Exchange, Sept. 29, 2014).

Should we include, among individuals who risk death for the sake of others, those who do so in the ordinary course of employment? These would include members of military and civilian bomb detonation squads. There is, for instance, a story in the London Daily Mirror (August 21, 2017) of a bomb squad that removed a suspected suicide belt from a young boy. We could include search and rescue personnel such as lifeguards and medical aircraft crews. In July 2014, a lifeguard in Newport Beach, California, died in a rescue (Joseph Serna and Catherine Saillant, “Newport Beach Lifeguard Death is First on Duty in 100 Years,” L.A. Times, July 7, 2014). Unfortunately, the crash of medical evacuation planes and helicopters is not rare. A 2008 report says there were eight in 12 months in the United States (AP, “4 Killed in Medevac Copter Crash in Maryland,” N.Y. Times, Sept. 29, 2008). A 2016 incident is described in “Four People Dead After Medical Plane Crashes in Northern California” by Madison Park and Joe Sutton (CNN, July 30, 2016).

You may have read of the successful winter rescue by plane of two sick workers in Antarctica in the cold and dark (see Christopher Mele and Austin Ramzy, “World Rescue Flight Evacuates 2 Sick Workers from the South Pole,” N.Y. Times, June 23, 2016; Sarah Kaplan, “South Pole Rescue: A Risky Trip through a ‘Mass of Black,’” Washington Post, July 7, 2016, p.A11).

Here’s another example of someone who risked life to save another, but not in the ordinary course of employment: Andrew Foster and his wife Lucy, both of Wales, were celebrating their first wedding anniversary in September 2017 by scaling El Capitan in Yosemite. An apartment-sized boulder fell, and he sheltered her from its blow. He died and she was hospitalized (Amy B. Wang and Rachel Chasun, “‘He Dived on Top of Me’: Woman Injured in Yosemite Rockfall Says Husband Died Shielding Her,” Washington Post, Sept. 30, 2017).

Catholics Jordan and Andre Anchondo were killed on August 3, 2019, at the mass shooting at the Walmart store in El Paso, while they were shielding their infant son who survived (Sarah Mervosh, “After Parents Died Shielding Son, Spotlight Added to Family’s Pain,” N.Y. Times, Aug. 12, 2019, p. A15).

In the next installment, we will consider people whom I call “bystanders.” They have demonstrated the ultimate in self-sacrifice. In this kind of activity, some live, some die.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXI in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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