Youngwood soldier among six Red Cross heroes

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said there are two kinds of heroes: those who shine in the face of great adversity and those who do their work unceremoniously.

The American Red Cross honored six heroes from both categories -- one of them a Youngwood soldier -- at the annual Heroes Breakfast at the Lexus Club at the Consol Energy Center. Some earned the distinction through a single act, others routinely give their time for others.

Here is a snapshot of this year's winners:

Deborah Krall of Youngwood

Ms. Krall has served for more than 30 years in the Air National Guard, primarily in the Chaplain's Office and has the rank of Master Sergeant. She participated in Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism. Her military decorations include the Air Force Commendation Medal with two devices and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

For the past 11 years she has worked as the Airman and Family Readiness Program Manager for the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Moon, where she is responsible for helping some 1,400 military members and families. She also works with Operation Military Kids. Most difficult, she said, are the times when she's called upon to comfort family members during a tragedy.

"You're out there doing your job ... doing the right thing," she said. "It's not a heroic act, but maybe it is making a difference."

Christine Marty of Sarver

Ms. Marty, 22, said fear was the last thing on her mind last summer when she was caught in a flash flood that sank more than a dozen cars on Washington Boulevard. She climbed out of her own sunken vehicle to swim to the vehicle of Romy Connolly of Lower Burrell, who was calling for help.

After assisting Ms. Connolly out of her car window, Ms. Marty held on to her with one arm and swam through the current. Ms. Marty kept her afloat, praying and talking and singing songs until help arrived.

"The strangest thing is that I was never afraid,'' said Ms. Marty, who won good Samaritan award.

Ms. Marty recently graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown and said saving Ms. Connolly's life made her more appreciative.

"It made me aware that you never know what the day is going to bring," she said.

The two women have since met for dinner and talk on the phone.

"I feel blessed I had the strength and skills to help in that way," she said.

Karen Murphy of Coraopolis

Every other Sunday, Mrs. Murphy donates platelets for the Cornell School District at the Central Blood Bank's Cranberry Donor Center. Credit for her donations goes toward the district's blood drives and makes the district eligible to receive scholarship money from the Blood Bank.

Mrs. Murphy has donated platelets an average of 20 times a year for the past five years and reached her 100th donation in January.

Giving back to the school her two children attended is nothing new for Mrs. Murphy. She has served on the school board since 1999, was vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization, organized fundraisers, helped with the school's annual Santa Shop, sewed costumes for school plays and did clothing alterations on band uniforms. Some of her handiwork hangs on the walls of the school in the form of WPIAL banners.

This generous spirit has translated into Mrs. Murphy's home life as well: she and husband David have fostered 25 children during the last 20 years.

"We have been blessed, so we pass that along," she said. "That's all there is to it."

Justin Ritchie of New Castle

Justin was 15 when he joined the ranks of heroes.

While on Thanksgiving break from school in November 2011, he was awakened by his dog barking. He heard a woman calling for help and discovered his neighbor, 74-year-old Charlene McMasters, hanging from an upstairs window of her burning house.

Justin ran outside, grabbed a ladder and put it to her window. While Mrs. McMasters was climbing down, the ladder snapped, but she suffered only minor injuries.

"I just did it," he said. "My mind was running and before I knew it I was running to get a ladder."

Justin visited Mrs. McMasters while she was in the hospital where he said she expressed her gratitude. The two had previously only exchanged mild pleasantries. Now the pair keep in contact, even though she has moved.

"I think everybody would have done something to help her," he said.

Alex Vogel of Baldwin Borough

March 3 was another day on the job for Mr. Vogel when he and fellow firefighters responded to a fire on Churchview Avenue in Baldwin Borough.

Mr. Vogel and Bob Wysocki, both volunteer firefighters with the Baldwin Independent Fire Company No. 1, were on the hose line battling the blaze when Mr. Wysocki suddenly screamed for help. He had fallen through a floor inside of the burning building's first-floor kitchen.

With smoke so thick that Mr. Vogel said he couldn't see his hand in front of his face, he reached down and pulled his friend to safety.

Of his award as Professional Responder Hero and the experience, Mr. Vogel said: "It feels good ... I got to save one of my best friends.''

"I just did what I was trained to do,'' he said.

Grant Wilson of Mt. Lebanon

After dedicating 35 years to the safety of others, Mr. Wilson -- who won the Lifetime Commitment to Red Cross award -- now employs his expertise to help people avert disaster.

Since his retirement as a firefighter/emergency management coordinator with Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, Mr. Wilson has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than ten years where he plays a key role in government relations and disaster planning.

Mr. Wilson first became involved with the Red Cross while working for the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department. Drawing on his experience in emergency management, he volunteered to help develop a training program for emergency evacuations at elder care facilities.

He has since assisted in the development of the local Community Evacuation Center Team program, a vital initiative that identifies community groups and trains members as volunteers, so they can quickly open a shelter in their community in times of disaster.

He also teaches disaster training classes.

"I'm no different than all those folks out there who are trying to do good things," he said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Shannon Nass, freelance: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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