Ocean safety: What do Kaua‘i and Dunkirk have in common?

Dunkirk is usually a quiet seaport town on the French side of the English Channel, about 30 miles across from the southern coast of England. However, because of what took place there in May 1940, during the early stages of World War II, it became famous for one of the most remarkable events in military history. The Allied troops were pinned against the English Channel, with no land escape route. Hitler’s troops were advancing on them from land and a terrible bloodbath seemed inevitable.

Then a couple of remarkable things happened: Hitler, for reasons that have never been fully understood, ordered his troops to slow their advance. Meanwhile on the other side of the Channel, the British mobilized an evacuation fleet which consisted of warships and massive air cover to be sure, but which also brought in any and every seaworthy vessel in Southern England. Named by some “The Mosquito Fleet,” the armada contained fishing boats, pleasure craft, day-sailors, putt-putts, dories — all manned by their owners and skippers. They crossed the channel and ferried the beach-stranded troops out to the ships waiting off-shore. The weather complied and this evacuation ended up saving the lives of nearly 340,000 Allied troops.

So what does this have to do with Kaua‘i? Well, when people get in trouble on our beaches and in our waters, we too have our big ships and our air cover; our lifeguards with their Jet-Skis and our firefighters and our Coast Guard rescue helicopters and our defibrillators. And thankfully we also have our own version of a Mosquito Fleet, namely all of our local surfers, boogie-boarders, body-surfers, swimmers, fishermen, beach-goers — as well as our prevention-oriented concierges and activity-desk personnel.

I shudder to think of how many people would have drowned here if not for these “lay” rescues and preventions that take place daily. Scott Ferguson, Jeanne Amas, Cheston Omo, Junior Lifeguard Sarah Faraola, Daniel Saylor, Gina Kaluahine, Kevin Yamase, Sabrina Callahan — I put forth these names with full knowledge that behind each of them stands a column of hundreds who have saved lives, and who in many cases have jeapordized their own lives in order to make the rescue. You know who you are. Please take a moment and feel the love and appreciation.

Recently Governor Lingle gave a proclamation to our ocean safety professionals — well deserved.

Mosquito Fleet, this column is for you.

I think of a Budweiser radio jingle that I enjoy (I’ll use the word “men” the way the jingle does, but please substitute “men and women” in your mind): “Here’s to you, great American hero … Mr. local water-person life sa-aver.”

On behalf of those you’ve saved, on behalf of their loved ones, on behalf of our ocean safety professionals, on behalf of me and on behalf of all of us on Kaua‘i — thank you, and well done. It’s sure great having you on the team.

• Monty Downs is an emergency room doctor at Wilcox Memorial Hospital. His column appears every other Wednesday.

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