“Recognition Day” at The Citadel marks the date freshmen officially move beyond their “knobs” phase at the military college.
It’s a memorable, emotional and activity-packed day for the entire corps of cadets. But for three of the college’s upper classmen, Recognition Day 2012 is one never to be forgotten.
After the April 14 events, cadets Byron Addison, Denzel Grant and Jarrod Branch left campus together to further celebrate Recognition Day. Early the next morning, after enjoying the nightlife in Charleston’s Market area, the cadets saved the life of a stabbing victim who was bleeding badly.
The cadets prevented Navy sailor Thomas Disser, whose intestines were hanging out of his abdomen after he had been cut, from bleeding to death. The cadets then helped police to identify the assailant and returned to their campus early in the morning in bloody uniforms.
The Citadel on Thursday will honor the three cadets, and a fourth — Christian Mundy — who also saved a life in a separate incident in April.
The four will receive the Cadet Medal of Valor during the annual Commencement Week Awards Convocation, Citadel spokeswoman Charlene Gunnels said.
Addison, Grant and Branch confided it has not been easy putting aside the shocking condition in which they found Disser. The Citadel has made counselors available to the cadets.
“We told them they are heroes,” Maj. Todd Cody, an assistant professor of military studies at The Citadel and a counselor, declared. “They didn’t know at first what they did, and it took them a while to come to grips with the fact that they saved someone’s life,” Cody said.
Disser, 22, who is recovering from his injuries at home in Montgomery, Texas, said by phone last week that he is forever grateful to the cadets. He said he doesn’t remember much about the immediate aftermath of the stabbing.
Disser, who was in Goose Creek for training at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command the week he was stabbed, said he has 47 staples in his stomach area closing his knife wound.
The cadets and Disser all say they have become good friends since their unexpected meeting. The cadets visited Disser at Medical University Hospital and keep in touch with him by phone.
“They came almost every day.” Disser said of the hospital visits. He said that when he’s recovered, “I want to hang with them.”
“He’s a great guy with a great personality,” Addison said of Disser. “He has a very positive attitude, considering his condition,” Branch added.
Grant, a senior and platoon leader in Charlie Company; Branch, a junior Army ROTC contract cadet in Bravo Company; and Addison, a senior football player from Bravo Company, were walking to their car about 2 a.m. April 15 when they glimpsed a scuffle outside Molly Darcy’s East Bay Street pub. The cadets had no intention of becoming involved in the fight, but moved in to help when one combatant ran and the other fell to the pavement, Grant said.
He said they didn’t realize at first that the fallen man had been stabbed.
“We assumed that he’d just gotten hit, and we were going to help him get up,” Addison explained.
But as they neared, “we saw a large amount of blood and his internal organs were laying on his stomach,” Branch said. “He was in a lot of pain,” Grant remembers. Though schooled in first aid and combat lifesaving, the cadets said nothing could have prepared them for what they saw. But there was no hesitation.
“We just snapped into action,” Branch said.
Charleston police said Disser suffered a 4-inch gash in the altercation and lost a substantial amount of blood. Before emergency personnel could arrive, Branch applied pressure to Disser’s abdomen to control the bleeding. Grant kept Disser calm, and Addison ran in search of a police officer.
“I kept talking to him to make sure he was responsive,” Grant said. He said he tried to assure Disser help was on the way, and asked him questions. “He was not very responsive because he was in a lot of pain,” he said.
Disser mumbled, slipped into shock, and vomited, the cadets said. “It seemed like a long time before EMS arrived,” Addison said, adding it actually was just three to five minutes. The cadets helped put Disser on a backboard to be carried to the ambulance.
Grant said police asked the cadets what they’d seen, and for a description of the suspect. After detaining a man at East Bay and Cumberland streets, police brought the cadets to where they could see him, but he could not see them.
The cadets identified the man as the one they’d seen running from the stabbing scene. Police charged Francis Xavier Montoya, 40, with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
The cadets said authorities encouraged them to wash and advised them to have their blood tested at the campus infirmary. As they returned to The Citadel, the cadets in bloody uniforms faced questions at the gate.
“They asked us were we all right, did we have any cuts. They could see on our faces that we really didn’t want to talk about it,” Branch said.
The cadets said they still don’t know what the fight was about, and Addison said it’s frightening to think what might have happened to Disser had the cadets not been near when the stabbing happened.
“It was like a blessing that we were there and had the training and knew what to do,” he said.
Reach Edward C. Fennell at 937-5560.
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