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Airmen decorated for heroism in fiery car crash.
Three newly decorated reservists pose following an award ceremony in their honor June 3, 2007. Tech. Sgt. Mark T. Oeler (center) received the Airman's Medal for heroism. Tech. Sgt. Sidney F. Litzelman (left) and Staff Sgt. Robert R. Evans received Air Force Commendation Medals for courage. Sergeant Oeler led their efforts to rescue an injured motorist from a burning car in May 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Airmen decorated for heroism in fiery car crash

Posted 6/4/2007   Updated 6/4/2007 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Dan Lanphear
913th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/4/2007 - WILLOW GROVE AIR RESERVE STATION, Pa. -- Three enlisted reservists from the 92nd Aerial Port Squadron, Wyoming Valley, Pa., received medals June 3 for heroism.

Tech. Sgt. Mark T. Oeler, a ramp services supervisor, received the Airman' s Medal for leadership and bravery in pulling an injured motorist from a burning car in May 2005. Tech. Sgt. Sidney F. Litzelman, a ramp services supervisor, and Staff Sgt. Robert R. Evans, a cargo processor, received Air Force Commendation Medals for their bravery at the scene.

While traveling to Dover Air Force Base, Del., Sergeant Oeler slowed the government-owned truck they were traveling in as they approached slow-moving traffic crossing the Delaware Canal Bridge on Route 1.

As a tractor trailer immediately in front of them stopped abruptly, Sergeant Oeler swerved to avoid a collision. Passing the truck, a station wagon came into view, inverted. With flames rising from the bottom of the engine compartment, the driver was trapped inside, screaming in pain.

"At that instant, I knew we had to stop and help the injured driver," said Sergeant Oeler.

Putting service before self, the three reservists and Tech. Sgt. Eugene Schrecongost quickly left their vehicle to help. Sergeant Schrecongost directed traffic at the scene while his three fellow Airmen acted to free the man. Surrounded by traffic and flames, they fought to free the panicking man from the burning wreckage before it became a deadly inferno.

"His knee was trapped between the dashboard and the steering wheel. It seemed as though the harder we tried, the faster the flames rose," said Sergeant Oeler.

Sergeant Oeler climbed into the burning car to try to dislodge the man's leg. Risking a fiery death, he finally pulled the man free just before flames completely engulfed the car.

"I feel as though if we did not step in and try to free him, we would have watched him perish," said Sergeant Oeler.

Emergency personnel arrived on the scene and took the man to a nearby hospital.

Lt. Col. Patrick J. Riley, 92nd APS commander, presented the medals to the Airmen during a ceremony June 3. The ceremony also marked Sergeant Oeler's retirement from the Air Force Reserve. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)

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