Ensuring the safety of others. That was Lt. Col. Thomas Cleary’s first thought when an airliner slammed into the floor below his office in the Pentagon on September 11. Not saving his own skin so that he could watch his children grow up, but jeopardizing his own safety in the hopes of saving at least one life. He credits this instinct to his training as an infantryman,
“You don’t leave anybody behind,” he states matter-of-factly. “You just don’t.”
After the attack, Cleary and two colleagues stayed behind to make sure that anyone still alive was evacuated. Moving out into the corridor, they encountered the prostrate form of Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, who had suffered severe bums from the explosion and was slipping into shock. After transporting him to safety, they continued to scout for survivors.
Cleary’s fierce loyalty extends beyond his commitment to the United States to his ancestral homeland in County Tipperary, Ireland. His fourth child, a son, is due on March 23rd, but Cleary hopes he’ll be born on the 17th. The baby’s name is already picked out: Patrick.
For his lifesaving acts, for placing the safety of others above his own, Lt. Col. Cleary was awarded the Soldier’s Medal. ♦
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