York Catholic grad, Marine honored for saving drowning family

Maj. Gen. Karsten Heckl (left), commanding general, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, presents Staff Sgt. Leary Reichart-Warfel with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, January 28, 2019. Reichart Warfel received this award for his heroic efforts while saving a family at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. William L. Holdaway)

A former York Catholic High School student didn’t think twice about taking action when a family was struggling in the Atlantic Ocean.

"I guess what was going through my head was just, 'go, go, go, as fast as you can,'" said U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Leary Kyle Reichart-Warfel, a 2012 graduate of York Catholic. "You just kind of let your instinct take control and you don’t stop."

Reichart-Warfel has been awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal after he and three other Marines saved several members of a family caught in a riptide at Atlantic Beach, in North Carolina on June 15, 2018, according to a Marine Corps news release.

Distinguished in particular by "lifesaving acts" at the risk of one's own life, it is a rare honor, and the highest marine declaration for heroism outside of combat.

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Reichart-Warfel was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina, in 2018 when he and three fellow marines — Cpl. Anders Larson, Cpl. Timothy Watson and Cpl. Austin McMullen from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing —swam at least 100 yards through the current to usher a family of four from Virginia back to shore. 

Their actions saved a mother, Ali Joy, and her twin daughters. The girls' father,  Charles Austin Joy Jr., could not be saved. 

For their service, all four Marines were honored with medals in Cherry Point this January.

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"Obviously, I’m a proud mom," said  Reichart-Warfel's mother, Sam Reichart.

She recalls the auditorium at the medal ceremony was very quiet and, after Maj. Gen. Karsten Heckl spoke, all the Marines in attendance stood up at once.

"It sounded like thunder — that's when I got chills," she said.

Sgt.  Reichart-Warfel said his parents instilled a sense of duty at a young age. 

"It all came from my parents and how they raised me," he said.

York Catholic Principal Katie Seufert said Reichart-Warfel's actions exemplify York Catholic's emphasis on serving others. 

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Ali Joy was instrumental in sharing the Marines' story and even started an awareness initiative, Float Don't Fight, to share what she learned that day about staying safe in a riptide.

"I also recognized what did save me and the girls," she wrote in the initiative's story. "A marine near us had shouted, 'Float on your back!' Doing this, we were able to survive long enough to be rescued."