A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal Jan. 9 in front of the entire Brigade of Midshipmen assembled in Alumni Hall.
Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler, a member of the academy’s 20th Company, received the medal — the highest noncombat decoration awarded for heroism by the Navy — for his heroic actions while leading a Boy Scout troop in July.
While camping in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, the troop was caught in a major storm, with wind gusts of up to 80 mph 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 mph 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 Navy Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy. Only about 3,000 sailors and Marines have received the award since. To earn this award, there must be evidence 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 Navy Vice Adm. Ted Carter read the award citation. His classmates then gave him a rousing standing ovation.
“It was an incredibly humbling and unexpected experience,” Dennler said. “I’m very thankful to everyone who helped to make that happen and for the support of my family and friends.”
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.”
Navy Vice Adm. Ted Carter, the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, right, speaks to the Brigade of Midshipman about the Navy and Marine Corps Medal awarded to Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler during a ceremony at Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Md., Jan. 9, 2017. (Navy photo by Kenneth Aston)
“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 Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Howell, the senior enlisted leader of 20th Company. “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 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,” he said. “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 in 2019.