Family honors son, gives back to rescue community

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jamal Sutter
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: The mention of the nonprofit organization That Others May Live Foundation does not constitute endorsement or affiliation by Moody Air Force Base or the U.S. Air Force.)

For 17 consecutive days in early 2011, members of the 38th and 41st Rescue Squadrons took part in recovery efforts to locate a 17-year-old young man who drowned while duck hunting at Ocean Pond in Lake Park, Ga.

With water temperatures in the 30s, and weeds and man-made objects creating false bottoms, the 520-acre pond presented many challenges for dive teams who worked around the clock to complete their mission.

But on the morning of Jan. 31, 2011, two Moody pararescuemen emerged from the water with James Eunice in their arms, something the Eunice family will forever be thankful for.

"You can say they were doing their job, but they did it with such a purpose and such devotion," said John Eunice, James' father and 23d Civil Engineer Squadron deputy base civil engineer. "The care taker at Ocean Pond made it a point to take us around and meet each one of the rescue teams. We had a chance to at least speak to and thank each one of the people who were in the water looking for James."

Throughout the recovery effort, stories of James Eunice and the type of young man he was began to circulate among the rescue teams, which added extra motivation to locate him and bring him back to his family.

"I think the guys had the purpose that the family noticed, because James was so much like the guys who were out there," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joseph Barnard, 38th RQS commander. "The physicality of him, how he stood up straight, looked people in the eye, the way he was raised, the way he lived his life--these men saw this high school kid thinking, 'Man, this guy can be us.'"

Having an active-duty background, John Eunice was quite familiar with the rescue community. He deployed with them in the past and being at Moody for the last five years, he said he never lost sight of rescue's importance to the mission. But the situation a little more than two years ago gave him a first-hand and personal look at how they operate.

"Every time they hit that water, it was dangerous," he said. "To see what they did day in and day out, night in and night out ... it was 24-hour search for James. We will forever be grateful for the rescue community."

In fact, the Eunice family felt so indebted to the rescue world, they recently decided to give back in their own way by donating $1,000 to the That Others May Live Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit charitable organization that provides support and assistance to Air Force families of rescue personnel who were killed or severely injured during missions.

"We are very moved by the generosity of the Eunice family and their confidence in our mission," said Laura Lerdall, TOMLF deputy executive director for operations. "I believe their gift not only honors the memory of their son, but it also honors the memory of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in rescue as well as their families."

James Eunice was a two-sport athlete at Valdosta High School who wore number 23 on his jerseys, and through tragedy, it was special for the Eunice family to receive the support they got from the men and women of the 23d Wing.

"When they found James that morning," John Eunice explained. "And then you had a two ship of A-10s fly over the pond, and one kicks up in the missing man formation, how do you describe that sense of feeling--sense of appreciation for everything that was done for a 17-year-old young man who meant so much to us?"