U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Keppen, former Eastern Sector deputy commander, received a Joint Service Commendation Medal (JSCM) during an awards ceremony at headquarters, Oct. 12. The JSCM is presented by the United States Armed Forces to individuals who have performed an exceedingly heroic act, exceptional achievement or commendable service.
Keppen’s heroic actions on Memorial Day led to the life-saving rescue of two individuals. While dining at a restaurant on the dock of Fox River in Illinois, Keppen’s training kicked in as he saw an older man and his grandson struggling in the river’s strong undercurrents. After the young boy fell off a boat, his grandfather jumped in to save him and they both strained to keep above the water.
Without hesitation, Keppen ran from the restaurant and dove into the river fully clothed to save the boy and his 81-year-old grandfather. Neither individual was wearing a life preserver, so Keppen grabbed the small boy, swam him back to safety and lifted him onto the dock. He then dove back in the river, rescued the older man, and swam him back to safety. Once in the harbor, the older man was too heavy to lift to the elevated dock. Keppen submerged himself in the water and the older man climbed over him to grab onto the dock.
“I’m glad to have been at the right place at the right time,” said Keppen. “I had no idea how strong the currents were until I dove in. It happened so quickly and it was just fate that I was there. For me, it’s less about the award and more being able to provide that family comfort and safety on Memorial Day.”
Undoubtedly, his bravery, heroic and immediate action and skill singlehandedly saved two lives that day. Keppen’s distinctive accomplishments, perseverance, and steadfast devotion to duty reflected credit upon him, and were in keeping with the highest traditions of USMEPCOM, the United States Navy and the Department of Defense.