On Jan. 31, 1953, a storm of historic proportions lashed the eastern coast of England, where U.S. airman Reis Leming was stationed with the recently formed 67th Air Rescue Squadron.
During the Night of the North Sea Rage, as it has been called, high tide and high sea levels clashed with hurricane-force gales to create what is often considered the worst peacetime disaster in 20th-century British history.
More than 300 people died in England, and as many as 24,000 homes were lost or damaged. But in the resort town of Hunstanton, not far from the RAF Sculthorpe military base where Leming was billeted, nearly 30 people in the town survived thanks to Leming’s gumption.
Equipped with a rubber dinghy and an anti-exposure suit, Leming forged into the neck-high frigid waters and over eight hours, like a human tugboat, single-handedly pulled 27 people to safety. It was later revealed that Leming, then 22, did not know how to swim.
And nearly six decades later, after his death Nov. 4 at age 81 at his home in Bend, Ore., Leming remained a hero of Hunstanton. National and local news media honored him in obituaries.