CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Shortly after midnight the morning of Oct. 22, 2007, two Marines drove back to Camp Lejeune from weekend liberty on a dark, rural section of U.S. Highway 74 in North Carolina. In an instant an event took place that would take one life and change the lives of both Marines.
At about 20 minutes after the hour Cpl. Carl McCauley, in the passenger seat, said he was text-messaging a friend. He looked up when the driver, Cpl. S. Lance Morse, gasped. The SUV that had passed them only moments before went briefly onto the shoulder, overcorrected and began to roll.
"Corporal McCauley was out of the vehicle before I even came to a complete stop," said Morse. Without hesitation the Marines ran to the disabled vehicle. They called 911, searched the area for ejected passengers, and stopped approaching vehicles to direct headlights onto the scene. When the vehicle caught fire, they borrowed fire extinguishers from truck drivers and fought the flames. With the help of local police arriving at the scene, the Marines cut the driver's seatbelt, removed him from the burning SUV and applied first aid.
The driver, Homer Graham, 20, of Monroe, N.C., later succumbed to his injuries en route to the hospital. Graham was a soldier in D Battery, 1st Battalion Field Artillery based in Monroe. He was also an organ donor.
Combat Logistics Battalion 26, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, II Marine Expeditionary Force, honored its two Marines for heroic actions on the scene. McCauley and Morse were awarded the Navy Marine Corps Commendation medal for pulling Graham from his burning SUV and applying first aid.
Graham’s parents, Homer and Linda Graham, and several family members attended the award ceremony and extended their gratitude to the Marines for their actions that day. They said they were grateful the Marines were there and acted to help reduce their son's suffering.
"They did the right thing because that's who they are," said Homer Graham, addressing the awardees and assembled CLB-26 Marines. "That's what Marines do. Their heroism is not affected by my son's death. Through their actions, my son was able to give the gift of sight to two blind people.
"They knew what to do and did it. By honoring them, we honor my son," he said.
At the ceremony, Linda Graham gave McCauley and Morse "a small token of our appreciation," a gold watch and memorial bracelet for each Marine. Even more poignant, she also gave each Marine a mother's hug.
"It's good to know we have men like that," she said.