So I Won’t Call Him A Hero, Then

The Strib reports – belatedly – the story of Matthew Miller.

Miller was one of the heretofore unsung citizen-rescuers who saved so many when the 35W bridge collapsed. As fast as the police and fire departments responded, the people on the scene were faster – and Miller was right there:

Miller turned — and saw nothing, except dust and smoke.

“After about a minute, I realized there was no more bridge. So then I went from chaos mode to panic.”

Miller worked his way down into the river gorge, across train tracks and woods, to where a huge canopy of highway was resting at a sharp angle.

He jumped down an 8-foot embankment, grabbing a tree branch to break his fall.

“There were screams, blood, everything was down there. … I didn’t even know where the heck I was running. I just kept on running.”

Then he got to the place he calls Ground Zero. “There was eight lanes of concrete hanging 15 feet above me.”

In an instant, he found himself praying. “I said, ‘God, help me not to focus on that piece of concrete, that piece of highway hanging above my head.’ From there, I didn’t look up.”

Miller started getting people out of cars that had come crashing down with the bridge. “Everybody that I helped was alive, though more than one with their eyes rolling into the backs of their heads,” he said.

Among the first people Miller found was a woman trapped in a car upside down. He crawled into the car and ripped out the head rests so she could be pulled out through the back seat.

Strangely, she was calm. “She was very uncomfortable, I could tell,” Miller said. “But she was more calm than I was.”

And now, seven months later?

Miller’s feat, although acknowledged by Minneapolis police, came to public light only last week, when the Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that he is a finalist for its first Above & Beyond Citizen Honors for unsung heroes.

The award, to be presented by retired Gen. Colin Powell on March 25, would be the first national recognition for any rescuer in the Aug. 1 bridge collapse, which took the lives of 13 people. Among those who died: Miller’s co-worker Greg Jolstad, who had been joking with him hours before.

“I’m not really a big hero. I don’t need to have that label,” said Miller, a senior at Bethel University in Arden Hills.

Fair enough. But kudos, and thanks, anyway.

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