Many courageous acts in rescue effort

The word “hero” is bandied about far too freely in our society, it seems.

David Peck

People describe sports figures as heroes, or movie stars, and in some instances, perhaps they are. Our men and women in uniform fighting for our freedom and putting themselves in harm’s way are certainly heroes, though not every man or woman who dons a unif orm is a hero just because of that uniform. It depends on his or her service.

Actions speak the loudest when it comes to naming heroes. And Monday night’s harrowing hours at Big Horn Lake for the John and Janice Harder family and those who came to their rescue describe the designation “hero” to a tee.

Many literally put their lives on the line in extremely adverse conditions Monday night:

• John Harder, who made a herculean effort, as Sheriff Ken Blackburn put it, to save his daughter, swimming a long distance in wind-whipped water.

• Visiting kayaker Denis O’Brien, who put into the lake and saved another of John and Janice’s daughters as John and the two were coming toward shore in whipping winds and deep swells.

• Janice Harder, who clung to her two youngest daughters – Mary and Cecilia – in the cold, turbulent water, keeping them alive for hours and literally breathing life into Cecilia to keep her from perishing.

• Search and rescue squad members who put out in “high seas” to search for the family members, their own boats tossed by the waves.

• Volunteer boatmen from the community and the National Park Service maintenance crew who, without a second thought, raced to the lake and joined in the search effort. They proved critical to the rescue operation.

• So-called “ground-pounders” from the North Big Horn Search and Rescue squad who literally waded into the swampy debris, driftwood, muck and mud on the west shore looking for the family in case they made it to shore.

• The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Dept. and the Lovell Fire Dept. for their efforts on that night providing leadership, logistics and light. Calm under fire, they coordinated the effort to successfully bring eight lost people out of the water on a truly dark and stormy night.

• Sheriff’s dispatcher Gail Parker, who calmly relayed and recorded the oftentimes scratchy radio communications throughout the ordeal, handling hundreds of messages and keeping the responders in touch. Most folks don’t realize how stressful dispatching can be.

• The ambulance crew and trauma team from North Big Horn Hospital, who performed, in the words of Sheriff Blackburn, “One of the greatest responses I’ve ever seen.”

• The family and friends of the Harders, who rallied around them, and the Harders themselves, all of whom carried through thanks to their great faith in God, in spite of their incalculable grief.

• And the community at large, who will once again reach out to help a hurting family. This community with a big heart does so again and again and again.

Have we, now, diluted the word “hero” with this list? We don’t think so. It was truly an amazing effort Monday night.

As visiting kayaker O’Brien put it in an e-mail to Powell Tribune reporter Don Amend, “I watched that entire rescue operation, about an hour of it, from the Sheriff’s truck. Their efforts are the real story. The Sheriff and his people were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. It was a devastating night.

“When I left the lake that night, only one child in addition to the girl(s) had been found and it looked very grim. I was expecting a worse outcome. Obviously, the Sheriff’s people made the difference.”

Courage defines a hero in most cases, and there was plenty of courage to go around on Monday night at Big Horn Lake. We are thankful for the selfless, courageous efforts of many true heroes aptly designated on that horrific night.

–David Peck