WASHINGTON – As he listened to his heroic actions recounted to a banquet room of guests Wednesday,the letter carrier with the soft Southern accent looked embarrassed to be the center of attention.
“They made it sound like I was some action hero,” said Rodger L. Parker in an interview. “I'm really just a letter carrier from Memphis.”
Parker,37 of Cordova,Tenn.,was named the National Hero of the Year by the National Association of Letter Carriers,for saving the lives of two people whose truck crashed into a lake.
A year ago,on his way home from work delivering mail in the Memphis suburbs,Parker was stopped in traffic on Germantown Road. He noticed a pickup truck pull out of line and assumed the driver knew of a shortcut. Instead the truck veered into a lake. Inside were a husband and wife.
“I thought,‘I need to get them out,'” Parker said. “I had no time for anything else,I wasn't going to quit until they were out. … There were thousands of cars,and I was the only one out there.”
Parker first rescued the woman,unbuckling her seat belt and swimming to shore with her on his back,screaming. Two other men tried to help the husband,but Parker saw they were unsuccessful.
He dived back into the water,and as the truck cab continued to fill with water,he tried to pull the man through the window. The suction of the sinking truck dragged him under,but he was able to free the man and himself just as the truck sank to the bottom of the lake.
By then,rescue workers were there,and Parker quietly slipped away,never giving his name to authorities.
“I like to be on my own,with my family,” said Parker. “I don't like to be the focus of attention.”
On his way home,the emotions of his rescue hit Parker,and two blocks from his house he stopped the car to cry. He told only his wife that he was the mystery man who saved the couple.
It wasn't until next morning when the postmaster of Memphis,who is also Parker's father,demanded that the unknown postal worker come forward,that Parker admitted to his bravery.
NALC President William Young presented Parker and five other letter carriers with the annual heroism awards,saying this year's group is an “outstanding example of a rare breed of public servants” that represents the letter carriers of America.
The awards luncheon began with a speech by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,D-Mass.,who compared the letter carriers’ heroism to that of rescue workers who died Sept. 11,2001.
Postmaster General John E. Potter and AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney also praised the winners.
NALC judge and AFL-CIO official Jordan Biscardo said the event was very important not only to carriers,but also to Washington.
“The fact that Ted Kennedy was here,and there wasn't a carrier from Massachusetts,that speaks volumes,” he said.
Although he is now a nationally recognized hero,Parker said he hopes his life as a husband and a father of five will continue normally.
“I'll just go back to my regular job,like a regular person,” said Parker.
The other NALC Heroes of the Year are:
*Norbert P. Teklinsky,Pittsburgh,Pa.,who raises money for diabetes research.
*Elizabeth C. Myers,Columbia,S.C.,who rescued a man from a burning house.
*Lawrence V. Swain,Alexandria,La.,who pulled a driver from a smoking car after a wreck.
*Richard H. Reimer,Van Nuys,Calif.,who tracked and captured a purse snatcher.
*Marilyn M. Bonacorso,Santa Clara,Calif.,who discovered a dehydrated elderly man in his home.