Second Lt. Robert McCoy thought Dec. 18, 2017, would be a normal day after physical training, but it turned into a day he will remember forever.
McCoy, an Army medical service officer assigned to the 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade, received the Soldier’s Medal Thursday from Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Army, for his acts of heroism after the Amtrak train derailment in DuPont, Dec. 18, 2017.
“I am honored and humbled to be the recipient of this award,” McCoy said. “Dec. 18th was a hard day to endure. Many lives will be forever changed, including myself. I would like to take a moment to pay respect to those who had lost their lives and to those whose lives are forever changed by the Dec. 18 event.”
On that day, Amtrak train No. 501, the inaugural train on the new high-speed rail line from Seattle to Portland, derailed on an Interstate 5 overpass near the Mounts Road exit next to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, killing three and injuring more than 60 people. The train was traveling on a corner at nearly 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. All but one of the train’s 13 cars derailed in the crash.
“What he did that day truly honored himself, his unit and the United States Army,” Esper said. “It is a true example of leadership. And I just want to thank him again for a job well done.”
McCoy saw the train go off the overpass railway as it hit the concrete walls on the side and the wall exploded. There were people ejected from the train onto the pavement as well as passengers still trapped in the train cars.
“He drove up to the accident,” Esper said. “He surveyed the situation, he climbed on the back of a tractor trailer, leaped into a dangling rail car and proceeded to triage the entire vehicle; pulling people out from under luggage and debris, rescuing over 25 people. And he wasn’t done there. He didn’t quit. He exited the train car and leaped to another train car and began rescuing more people.”
The Army Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest and most prestigious peacetime award for valor and is awarded to a member of the armed forces who, while serving with the Army, distinguishes themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life.
“At the end of the day, he was credited for pulling over 34 people out of those rail cars,” Esper said. “Saved their lives, saved them from potentially a worse injury. So I can’t thank him enough for what he has done, for the service and for the United States Army.”