Sgt. 1st Class Mario King and his wife, fellow soldier Sgt. Adriane King, were driving in Kentucky when a movie-like scene unfolded in front of them.
It was May 13, and the Kings were coming back from a surprise visit to Mario’s parents for Mother’s Day.
“Normally we take a different route back, but because of all the traffic that weekend, we took a detour,” King told Army Times.
They were behind a small car and a fuel truck on a two-lane highway when they noticed the small car had veered off to the left, as if to make a turn.
“But then all of a sudden, it went back to the right in front of the fuel truck, and that’s when the accident occurred,” said King, who has served in the Army for 17 years.
He said he thinks the smaller car misjudged how much room it had to get back in front of the truck, which was in a “no-win situation.”
The fuel truck carrying 8,000 gallons of fuel swung around, jackknifed and began rolling down the highway before it came to a stop upside down.
“My wife and I looked at each other like, ‘Did we really just see that?’” King said. “This is something you just see in a movie. Like a Michael Bay movie.”
The small car had spun around, too, but the driver got out with minor injuries, he said.
King and his wife had pulled over at this point and talked to the driver of the small car while others called 911.
Then King ran over to the truck and saw the driver, Burl “Doug” Bowling, trying to get out, but he was stuck.
“He was upside down and his feet were stuck under the dash,” King said. “He managed to grab and push out the windshield.”
The sergeant first class pulled Bowling out of the vehicle and dragged him about 150 feet away as the truck’s fuel tank was engulfed in flames and its tires were exploding.
“The flames hadn’t quite reached the cab of the truck yet, but you could feel the heat from the surrounding flames,” he said.
King’s wife, Adriane, said the way the accident happened, they thought the outcome would be much worse.
“We pretty much thought both [drivers] were gone,” she said. “It was a sense of relief to know both of them were still alive.”
King said his Army training kicked in when he helped the truck driver out of the burning vehicle.
“We do fireman carries and stuff like that, so I know the proper techniques on how to carry a battle buddy off the battlefield,” he said. “It came into play because you have to figure out rather quickly what’s the best way to get somebody not the same size as you out of the vehicle.”
King and his wife said they were shocked when they found out he was receiving the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest peacetime award for valor.
“My husband never deemed himself as being a hero, even though others refer to him as that,” Adriane said. “It’s something we would do for anyone in a state of need.”
King said he’s grateful for an opportunity to have his parents in attendance for a formal ceremony.
“Anytime I got promoted, I was downrange,” he said. “Any big individual achievement for me, they weren’t able to be there. I’m really looking forward to seeing them and their reaction.”
The soldier said even though he’s receiving the award, it’s a “great day for the Army.”
“Oftentimes you see articles and stories, and they’re not always positive,” he said. “I think this is a great day for the Army and a great day for HRC.”