MCGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE, NJ --
“It’s just the right thing to do and I would expect the same from anyone else.” At the time, Lance Cpl. Joseph Howard, a mortarman with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, walked home from work with two friends when they witnessed a vehicle collision between four vehicles in Levittown, New York, on Dec. 30, 2017.
A Mercedes-Benz was traveling at speeds close to 100 miles an hour when it ran through a red light of an intersection, striking a pick-up truck on the driver’s side. Once struck, the pick-up truck flipped over several times, landing about 300 feet from the point of impact and colliding with a Volkswagen. The Mercedes also struck another vehicle before finally striking a tree.
After hearing a loud crash, Howard and his two friends ran to the accident and headed to the overturned pick-up truck, where they found two unconscious passengers.
“How are we going to get them out safely and as quick as possible?” Howard asked himself as he was recollecting his memory of the incident.
Howard took the lead and advised bystanders to call 911, saving himself valuable time. He started working though a damaged door. With the help of his friends, he quickly managed to open the driver’s side door to tend an unconscious victim. After safely cutting away the seatbelt and airbag, he moved the driver to a safe location away from the vehicle.
“I was scared, but I was not willing to leave them behind,” Howard said, describing the chaotic scene.
As his friends tended to the driver, Howard ran back to the vehicle now engulfed in flames, cut away the passenger’s seatbelt and airbag, and safely removed her from the vehicle. Seconds after pulling the passenger out, the vehicle exploded.
The passengers of the Volkswagen and other vehicle suffered unspecified injuries. The driver of the Mercedes fled the scene and was later caught and arrested following a full investigation of the incident.
For his selfless act of courage in the face of danger, now a sergeant, Howard would receive the Navy and Marine Corps medal, the Navy and Marine Corps’ highest non-combat decoration awarded for a distinguished act of heroism during a ceremony at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, Dec. 9, 2022.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Leslie Alcaraz
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Christopher J. Adams, 4th Marine Division Sergeant Major, congratulates Sgt. Joseph Howard, a Yonkers, New York native and an infantry mortarman with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, for being awarded with a Navy and Marine Corps Medal at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, Dec. 9, 2022. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the highest non-combatant decoration awarded. On Dec 30, 2017, at the time a lance corporal, Howard witnessed a car collision between four vehicles. Victims were trapped in a vehicle that had flipped eight times over a distance of 300 feet. Howard extracted the two unconscious victims from the car that continued to leak fuel. As he moved the second victim to safety, the vehicle was engulfed in flames and exploded. He then reassessed their injuries and provided life-saving first aid until first responders arrived. By his bold initiative and unwavering dedication to duty, Lance Cpl. Howard reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and United States Naval Service.
The driver of the pick-up truck, John LoRusso, suffered broken ribs, pulmonary contusions, and a traumatic brain injury. His passenger, Stephanie Nuner, suffered a broken collar bone and fractures to both ankles and a foot.
“The nurse was writing 1-18-18 on the white board, so I said ‘you’re writing the wrong date,’ she replied, ‘no sweetheart, you’ve been sleeping’,” LoRusso said, recalling his first memory. He had to be placed in a medically induced coma due to his traumatic brain injury and severe bleeding in his brain.
“I am grateful to not only be here but also gave me the chance to be able interact in everyday life,” said LoRusso as he explained the implications his injuries caused. He had to relearn how to walk and even how to talk.
“I was shell shocked; he saved my son's life,” said Vicky Keill, LoRusso’s mother. She described the long days and nights of recovery and therapy LoRusso endured and expressed her extreme gratitude to Howard. “To find out that he is a Marine and a policeman, he’s all hero, he’s a miracle.”
Howard was born in Yonkers, New York, and attended Nassau Community College, where he studied criminal justice. As a full-time student, he also worked two jobs and enrolled in the Marine Corps’ Delayed Entry Program. In summer 2014, Howard joined the Marine Corps Reserve.
“As a kid I always wanted to be a Marine, I also wanted to be a police officer,” Howard said while explaining his family’s history of serving in the military and the police force,
Becoming a Reserve Marine afforded him the opportunity be able to serve in both the Marine Corps and with his local police department as a police officer at the same time.
“That’s why I joined the Reserve, so I can be the first to do both,” Howard said.
He joined the New York Police Department in 2016. He was then assigned to the 75th Precinct, East New York, Brooklyn, where he began his patrol duties as an officer. Multiple witnesses, including testimonials from the victims, the Levittown Fire department, and Nassau County Police Department, have stated his actions that day saved the lives of LoRusso and Nuner.
Howard responded without hesitation to a dangerous and chaotic situation, his bravery in the face of multiple known and unknown hazards saved multiple lives and reduced the severity of injuries to others.
Who We Are: The United States Marine Corps Reserve is responsible for providing trained units and qualified individuals for mobilization to active duty in time of war, national emergency, and crisis or contingency operations. On a day-to-day basis, Marine Forces Reserve consists of a talented and dedicated pool of nearly 100,000 Marines able to augment the Active Component in a myriad of ways, to include operational deployments, support to training, participation in bi/multi-lateral exercises with partner nations and allies, and service-level experimentation in support of Force Design 2030 and refinement of new concepts, tactics, techniques, and procedures.