Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler received the medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the U.S. Department of the Navy, for heroic actions while leading a Boy Scout troop in July 2016.
While camping in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, the troop experienced a major storm with up to 80 mile-per-hour gusts and lightning strikes. Two trees fell on the campsite, killing a scout and an adult volunteer and severely injuring others.
When Dennler couldn't contact anyone on the radio for help, he canoed more than 1.5 miles at night in 60 mile-per-hour winds to a ranger station to bring back help and medical supplies.
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal falls in order of precedence just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star. It was first bestowed during World War II, to then Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy. Only about 3,000 have been given since. To win this award, there must be evidence that the act of heroism involved very specific life-threatening risk to the awardee.
The award came as a surprise to both Dennler and his classmates, who listened in silence while academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter read the award citation then gave him a rousing standing ovation.
The award wasn’t a surprise to his parents, who also attended the award presentation. Dennler’s mother, Monica Dennler, described her son as “persistent and tenacious.”
“He knows how to persevere and has a kind heart,” she said. “He was the only one who knew what to do back in high school when a classmate broke their leg at a basketball game, because he was an Eagle Scout.”
“He is a quiet young man who would not want a big fuss, but rightfully deserves it,” said 20th Company Senior Enlisted Leader Chief Electronics Technician Nicholas Howell. “Out of his classmates, he is the one who has the level head to think clearly and decisively act to contain the situation and help bring about the best possible solution.”
Dennler is a political science major and member of 20th Company. He completed two years of college at George Washington University before transferring to the Naval Academy.
“USNA has taught me how to work and think in environments where many things are out of my control, and I think the academy helps to create mindsets that put others first,” said Dennler. “I am incredibly thankful for those lessons.”
An active member of the academy's Semper Fi Society, he hopes to serve in the Marine Corps after graduating from the academy in 2019.