By LESLEY TOTH
Mille Lacs County Times
Being the “first to fight” isn’t’ just a slogan for the U.S. Marine Corps. An explosion at the Coleville, Calif., Military Housing Base Friday, Feb. 3, proved that statement has held true from World War I, to present combat engagements, to an emergency in the soldiers’ own neighborhood.
1992 Milaca High School graduate Dean Beutz said the evening was like any other at the Pickle Meadow mountain warfare base’s housing district. Families were putting children to sleep and parents were settling in for a little relaxation before calling it a night.
After four tours in Iraq, Beutz is no stranger to the sounds of rocket fire, detonations and bombs. But this wasn’t Iraq.
“I just got up from the chair in my man cave when the house exploded,” Beutz said over the phone. “First instinct — we thought we were being attacked. It sounded like a 500-pound bomb going off. A mortar was nothing compared to what this sounded like.”
The blast sent glass shattering into his man cave and blew Beutz out of the room and nearly 20 feet down the hall.
“I grabbed my daughter — she didn’t have a scratch on her,” Beutz gratefully recalled.
After seeing to the safety of their own families, the training Beutz and his neighbors possess kicked in.
“It was raining insulation,” he said.
Marines, most of them wearing nothing more than boxers and t-shirts, rushed toward the showering remains of the duplex and other homes that once stood on their block. They immediately began fighting fires that had broke out and searching for anyone trapped inside.
“We run towards the fire, not away,” Beutz said of Marines. “I pulled the kids out of the adjoining house and then I got the man and his wife out.”
He found the woman under a pile of debris. She currently is recovering from third degree burns sustained during the explosion. But another woman in a nearby home was not so fortunate.
“I got her boys out, they’re 4 and 6,” Beutz said of the woman who was killed. “She was basically the same distance from the house that I was [when it exploded]. If it wasn’t for the Marines that came to their aid… there could have been six fatalities.”
For the full story, see the Thursday, Feb. 16 print edition of the Times.