A Marine corporal was surprised with a medal in January for having jumped into a river months earlier to save a teenager’s life.

Cpl. Jacob Cogswell, 23, received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal during a battalion formation in Okinawa, Japan, on Jan. 12 for his “heroic actions,” according to a Marine Corps news release.

A machine gunner from New York state, Cogswell was on leave in July 2023 ahead of his unit’s deployment to Japan.

One day during this time off, he was out in a boat on New York’s Oneida River with his girlfriend and his parents when he passed under an old train bridge where groups of teens often are jumping from, he said in a Feb. 13 interview with Marine Corps Times.

A few teens were swimming in the water near the bridge. One of them appeared to be struggling.

The father of Cogswell’s girlfriend drove the boat close to the teen. The group aboard asked the teen if he was OK, but he didn’t respond — he just bobbed up and down, clearly panicking.

Cogswell jumped into the water in his T-shirt and shorts, taking decisive action he attributed in part to his training as a Marine.

“You don’t think about what could possibly happen to you,” Cogswell said. “You’re more concerned about the wellbeing of others.”

Cogswell told the teen to put both arms around his neck so the Marine could swim him toward the boat. For about five minutes, Cogswell pushed against a strong current to get the teen to safety.

Once Cogswell and the teen were in the boat, he and his girlfriend’s family made sure the teen wasn’t hurt. It took a few minutes for the teen to be calm enough to speak, Cogswell said.

When they got the teen back to shore and dropped him off with his friends, Cogswell had some advice for the group of youths: Quit jumping off that bridge.

“We told them that hopefully from this they will learn and pass it on to people, the dangers of it, and spread the word so nobody does that,” Cogswell said.

Unbeknownst to Cogswell, his girlfriend’s father told the leaders of his unit, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, what had happened.

The award came as a surprise to Cogswell, who was honored in January along with another Marine from the unit, Sgt. Aidan Blansfield — who, coincidentally, also had saved someone who was struggling in water during his predeployment leave.

For Cogswell, receiving the medal from his command felt good. But what felt better, he said, was the hope that people who heard his story might be inspired to take action, should they find themselves in similar situations.

“I didn’t do it for publicity or acknowledgment,” Cogswell said. “I did it in the betterment of that young teen’s life.”

Cogswell added, “Hopefully, from that, people feel more confident in being able to take that step and possibly saving somebody’s life, rather than taking a second guess at it.”

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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