Boy, 13, is cited for his courage

TROUBLED BY DEATH HE COULDN'T PREVENT

March 04, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Even though he had little chance to save a drowning man in the freezing water of Bear Creek last month, the incident still haunts 13-year-old John Eric Noah Jr.

He has sought solace in prayer and puzzled over why it happened. Though he went into the water several times, he thinks he should have saved Douglas W. Wienecke, 38.

Yesterday, in a surprise ceremony, the head of the state Natural Resources Police honored John Noah for his heroic efforts. John's seventh-grade classmates from General John Stricker Middle School applauded. Yet, he remains troubled.

"I've got mixed feelings about it, actually," he said. "I do feel a little bit bad, because I really wanted to save that guy. It's nice to get the attention, but I wish I could have [gone into the water] one more time."

The drowning happened Feb. 10. Mr. Wienecke, of Highlandtown, had gone into the freezing water to retrieve a remote-controlled boat. The sudden temperature change shocked his system, and he went under. His girlfriend screamed for help.

Young John heard her and ran to the water, took off his shoes and waded in. He came out, then went back, again and again, each time fighting off the cold, trying to find the man.

"He's a very spiritual kid," said Melinda Noah, John's mother. "He felt like because he couldn't save the guy, that he was a failure. I said, 'John, most people wouldn't have done anything.' "

"I went down there," his mother continued. "I put my hands in the water. It was like putting your hands in an ice cube tray."

Yesterday morning, Col. Franklin I. Wood, superintendent of the state Natural Resources Police, presented John with a framed certificate of heroism and said, "We recognize him for jeopardizing his own safety in an effort to save someone else."

The award was a surprise for young John. After all the seventh-graders were ushered into the school auditorium, the principal asked him to come to the stage. He came forward, looking slightly embarrassed. "I thought I was in trouble," he said.

After hearing what John had done, his classmates agreed that his efforts had been courageous.

"I think he deserves it," said Nate Zimmerman, 12.

After the ceremony, Natural Resources officers spent a few minutes telling the students about the dangers of cold-water swimming and hypothermia. The effects are sudden and harsh, "like a steel band being wrapped around your chest," said one official.

John has a yellow belt in karate and works at the Hidden Cove apartment swimming pool during the summer. He has discussed lifesaving with that pool's lifeguards and would like to be a lifeguard himself. "As soon as I turn 15 and become certified, I'm hitting the pool," he said.

His mother said she believes that yesterday's ceremony and the public recognition her son received have helped soothe his conscience. "He's having a good day," she said. "It was very good therapy for him."

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