People react as an explosion goes off April 15 near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. (David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via AP)
BOSTON — First Sgt. Bernard Madore served two deployments in Iraq, spending almost two years in hostile territory during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
While his military training prepared him to help after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, little could prepare the longtime national guardsman for what he saw.
“When you’re over there, you almost expect it,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve seen bombs go off. This was by far one of the most horrific scenes.”
Madore was one of three service members in Army fatigues who rushed toward the explosions, trying to direct people away from the scene and help police tear down a barrier between the sidewalk and the course.
Their quick reactions were among the many stories of people doing whatever they could to help, from running toward the scene to aid victims to smaller acts of kindness — a drink of water, use of a cellphone or a place to stay. In response to a deadly act of cowardice, stories of heroism defined the race and the city.
Madore, 1st Lt. Steve Fiola and Staff Sgt. Mark Welch were part of Tough Ruck 2013, a group of military members who walked the 26.2-mile course carrying their rucksacks, which weighed 32 to 45 pounds. Starting well before the race, many had just finished their eight-hour trek, their sacks filled with Gatorade, socks, a change of clothes, extra socks and first-aid kits. Many were treated in the medical tent, their feet blistered from the long day.
The group walked to raise money for an organization that supported them, Military Friends Foundation, but quickly became part of the initial response to a terrorist attack.
The three men, all guardsmen in the 1060th Transportation Company and Massachusetts natives, were near the finish line when two explosions came in quick succession. They ordered other guardsmen at the scene to help direct people out of the chaos, while the three men ran toward it.
“We just tore that (fence) down and just allowed us to get in there and pull what was remaining — the burning debris, burning clothes — all the stuff that was on these people, just try to clean it the best we could,” Fiola said.
Fiola helped put out a fire from a handkerchief a man had in his pants. An emergency worker needed clean rags and water, and Madore said he found a baby blanket and took it to her before helping with triage. Welch first helped to clear the bleachers on the opposite side of the street before going to the site of the explosion.
Comparisons to IEDs — the improvised explosive devices used by the enemy in Iraq — were apt, they said.
“Just disturbing,” said Welch, who served two deployments in Iraq. “I’ve obviously seen stuff like this before, but to have it happen on our own turf, it’s a little different. Limbs gone. Fingers away from the bodies.”
A native of Somerville, Mass., Madore had walked Boylston Street as a child, spent nights out there as a teenager, taken his kids there as a younger man. The shops were familiar to him, as was the scene following an explosion. Seeing it in the same place was not.
“To see it outside of a building that I know was horrible,” said Madore, 44. “I never thought I’d see something like that on our own grounds. When I walked away, it truly hit me.”
To a man, they praised the first responders, doctors and nurses who helped to quickly assess and treat people at the scene. The three men said they merely helped where they could.
Said Welch, “It’s drilled into us what we need to do. We run towards it, not away from it.”
Victims of the blasts say they will be forever grateful for the help.
Darrel Folkert, 42, of Redondo Beach, Calif., says he is thankful for two men named Ben and Mike — he doesn’t know their last names. They carried Folkert to safety when he was hit by shrapnel by the second explosion near the finish line Monday.
Folkert was standing on the north side of Boylston Street to watch his wife Jac, 42, finish the race. Jac Folkert never made it there and was instead diverted off the course a half-mile from the finish.
Folkert made it across Boylston, but that was it.
“I was able to stumble across the course and I sat down on the curb,” he said. “A number of different people offered to help me.”
Darrel Folkert said Mike and Ben carried him down a side street to Shaw’s grocery store where the two good samaritans stayed with Folkert while employees of the store responded.
Folkert had suffered lacerations and puncture wounds on his lower legs.
“I couldn’t have moved without somebody helping me,” he said. “What they did was way above and beyond.”
Ann Marie McDonough is a bookkeeper for Shaw’s and has been with the company for 30 years, according to store supervisor Benjamin Guiterrez. He said McDonough rushed to Folkert’s aid with bandages and water, and she got on the intercom to ask if there was a nurse in the store.
Mike and Ben tracked down police officers who called an ambulance, and Folkert was taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and treated for his injuries.
“The staff was amazingly attentive and extremely helpful, not just to my injuries but also helping me get in touch with my wife and family,” Folkert said. “It wasn’t until an hour after I arrived at the hospital that I knew my wife was OK.”
Jac Folkert was about to turn onto Boylston Street when the bombs went off. She was pushed back to Commonwealth Avenue.
“The people there were just amazing,” she said. “They were offering us cellphones, bringing us warm clothes, food and water.”
Marathon volunteers walked the group of stranded runners to buses where their gear bags were.
“That’s how I found out that Darrel was in the hospital,” Jac said.
Folkert was released from the hospital Monday night. The couple flew back to California on Tuesday night.
Other victims had similar stories. At his news conference Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told of a woman named Victoria who was carried to safety by a man named Tyler who said he was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
“Victoria very much wants to thank Tyler personally. ... We would love to hear from Tyler so we can connect him to Victoria,” Patrick told news reporters.
Places to stay
Through the power of a Google document created by The Boston Globe, local residents extended hospitality to runners who might have been stranded. The entries began at 5:39 p.m. Monday and continued well into Tuesday, easily more than 1,000 in all.
The outpouring of support, in the form of emails and phone calls to everyone on the list, was staggering.
Jerri Milbank was willing, even though she didn’t know what was happening at first Monday. Her son, a student at Boston University, texted to say he was OK, which prompted her to turn on the news from her home in nearby Westborough.
“I thought, ‘What can I do?’ I live 30 minutes outside of the city and I have a big home with a lot of room,” she said. “In my heart, I wasn’t doing anything — all I did was offer my home. But the generosity from all over the world was amazing.”
Daniel Tatar, a self-proclaimed “marketing nerd” based in Boston, offered a guest room and a bathroom. No one had taken him up on it as of Tuesday night, but Tatar said that wasn’t the point.
“Anytime there is a tragedy like this — Newtown, the earthquake in Haiti — it’s important for anyone who is able to offer anything to do so,” he said.
“It was rough being here, so close to what’s happening but told to stay away.”