Paul Cusack had certain expectations about running his first Boston Marathon just a short drive from his hometown of Westwood, Mass.
Then the unexpected happened.
Cusack, a 42-year-old Army sergeant, was part of a group representing the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He finished the 26-mile race under sunny skies just as the Red Sox sealed a victory at nearby Fenway Park, culminating in what appeared to be a perfect spring day.
The euphoria was shattered by two explosions near the finish line on Boylston Street. The blasts, 13 seconds and 200 yards apart, created an atmosphere of chaos. Brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were responsible for the attack, which killed three people and injured more than 200.
“You take certain expectations with you overseas, and you take other ones when you’re in your hometown,” Cusack told The News Tribune shortly before a ceremony Friday to honor his swift actions to help victims in the April 15 attack. “The wounds suffered by the people were definitely like what you see overseas, unfortunately.”
Cusack, who was given the Soldier’s Medal, was one of 14 medal recipients at the ceremony at Lewis-McChord. The Soldier’s Medal is awarded for acts of heroism not involving conflict with an enemy.
Cusack was recognized in front of a crowd of fellow soldiers and families for heroism above and beyond duty, for disregarding his own safety to take control of a devastating situation.
“(Cusack) performed admirably in the extremely chaotic and horrific situation, and inspired everyone around him,” according to a narrative released by the battalion. “While others ran away from the scene, (Cusack), physically and mentally fatigued from the marathon, raced towards the devastation and played a fundamental role in saving the lives of several individuals.”
Cusack, a corporal at the time, credits instinct and thorough training for his contributions amid the chaos. Those contributions included assisting the most critically injured victims and helping direct emergency professionals and bystanders to give first aid quickly and efficiently.
He wrapped tourniquets on wounds, briefed doctors on the status of victims and helped load the injured into ambulances.
“I would say that all of it reflects on my unit, the organization I work for, and the training that we go through,” he said. “It was completely instinctual. I don’t feel I participated in an active way. It seemed very much like the appropriate response to the situation before me.”
At the site of the second explosion — where he said there were fewer first responders — Cusack continued to move from person to person, giving aid and assessing injuries, stopping only to reconnect with his family before quickly shifting his attention back to those in need of treatment.
Of the several victims Cusack helped, he and others were unable to save two, 8-year-old Martin Richard and 23-year-old Lingzi Lu.
He said he assured himself that his mother, sisters, nieces and nephews — who were meters from the first explosion — were safe so he could press on. He said adrenaline helped him overcome the effects of running a physically taxing 26 miles.
“Something occurs inside of you that overrules the amount of fatigue you might be experiencing,” he said.
Cusack said he is sharing the award with the citizen spectators who helped victims alongside him, a group that has stayed in touch since the bombings.
During closing comments at Friday’s event, 7th Infantry Division Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza said that the honorees, including Cusack, are emblematic of the sacrifices and discipline of all men and women who serve.
“The strength of the Army is indeed the soldier,” he said.
Kari Plog: 253-597-8682