When Marine Sgt. Amed Issa heard gunshots while at a bar in Honolulu with his friend, he at first assumed they were fireworks. After all, it was Jan. 6, 2023, only a few days after New Year’s.

Then Issa saw two men with guns just outside. He dashed toward them.

His actions that night would save the life of a man who had been shot 23 times, according to the victim — and, a little more than a year later, would earn him the Marine Corps’ top award for noncombat heroism.

Issa, now 25, decided to become a Marine when he was 18, he said in an interview with Marine Corps Times on Tuesday. He turned down a full ride to Ohio State University because it didn’t feel right to him to pursue the privilege of college without first serving overseas.

Issa enlisted in the Marine Corps because it was the hardest branch and he hoped its like-minded individuals would push him to be a better person. He became an infantryman because the job is core to the service’s mission, he said.

In January 2023, Issa was serving with the infantry unit 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The night of the shooting, he and a fellow Marine had wrapped up dinner at Olive Garden and walked into a bar in the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu in search of a bathroom. They had been there for only a few minutes when the gunfire started.

When Issa saw the gunmen, he initially thought they were trying to enter the bar. He rushed toward the pair, pushing a few people behind a table to cover them as he went.

Then he realized the shooters were targeting someone on the sidewalk.

“I just felt like I was on a range,” Issa said. “I don’t know if it was one of those blocks that I had from being in the Marine Corps infantry, but at the time I didn’t feel like there was any danger associated with shooting, but I did feel like there was danger for the victim.”

The two gunmen escaped, but one of them sporadically was shooting back at the victim as he ran away, Issa recalled. In those moments, the Marine exposed himself to the fire to attend to the victim.

Issa relied on the casualty care simulations he had run through in training. He took off the victim’s shirt and checked him for bullet wounds, of which there were several.

Meanwhile, Issa felt a warm sensation on his knees, which were applying pressure near the victim’s crotch to cut off the femoral artery. It was blood.

Realizing that the victim’s legs needed attention, Issa removed the flannel shirt from his own body and fashioned a makeshift tourniquet for the right leg. He got someone to bring him a fork to tighten the tourniquet.

When two police officers arrived, Issa received from them a pair of real tourniquets that he used on the victim’s legs.

The victim was awake but not responding, and Issa and his friend talked to him to keep him conscious. Issa said he would later learn the man had been shot 23 times.

When the paramedics arrived, Issa recounted the aid he had provided and told them where the major gunshots were. The paramedics put the victim in an ambulance.

Issa said he also told the police what he could about the gunmen.

The case later was classified as second-degree attempted murder, the Honolulu Police Department told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday. No arrests were made, the police said, and the victim withdrew his complaint and did not want to prosecute.

Immediately afterward, Issa’s primary feeling was worry over the fate of the man who had been shot, he said.

“But at the same time, I think I was just like, ‘What just happened? That felt like a dream,’” he said. “And to this day, it continues to feel like a dream.”

“It doesn’t feel like I was the person who did that,” Issa added.

That night, Issa told his first sergeant that there had been a shooting, though he gave few details. But three Marine officers who happened to have been at the bar and witnessed Issa’s actions informed his command, Issa said.

Lt. Col. Felix Guerra III, Issa’s former battalion commander, said in a Marine news release in the weeks after the shooting, “It takes tremendous courage to do what Sgt. Issa did.”

“He risked his life and took action for a complete stranger. He embodied what it means to be a Marine.”

Since January 2023, Issa has departed Hawaii and started school at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He is studying for a bachelor’s degree, in exercise science, that will allow him to become a Marine officer. He said his hope is to serve as an aviator.

The victim survived the shooting and reached out to Issa months later to thank him. The two men still text from time to time, Issa said.

On Feb. 19, Issa received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal from Navy Capt. Michael Puffer, the commanding officer of the Naval ROTC at the University of South Florida.

The medal — the highest award for heroism outside of combat — recognizes service members who have taken heroic actions at the risk of their own lives. It’s a rare honor.

But, for now, Issa’s medal is tucked away in a storage container.

Issa said he means no disrespect to those who put in effort to secure him the recognition. It’s just that he didn’t want an award.

Because, in his view, what he did is just what anyone should try to do in that situation.

“I don’t think that any life is more important than another,” he said.

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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