In a press conference last month, Andrew Needum stood bravely in front of his community and co-workers while he reluctantly addressed the nation after what was a nightmare turned reality for he and his family. Returning from a family vacation aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, Andrew was caught doing the right thing at the right time.
When debris from an engine explosion flew through the window where 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan was sitting, Needum and fellow passenger Tim McGinty rushed to pull Riordan back inside of the plane. Despite performing CPR on Jennifer, a banking executive from New Mexico, she obtained fatal head injuries and did not survive.
Since that time, Andrew has been in the news for his heroic acts. He and his wife were invited to the White House to meet the President and it seems the public cannot get enough of the young man, whose humility and bravery has won the hearts of people across the nation.
Although the circumstances surrounding the original press conference are tragic, today there seemed to be a bit of a silver lining, if even for a minute, on what anyone would consider a dark cloud accompanying a difficult life experience.
There was a reunion of sorts at the Fire Station in Celina on Friday, June 1st. Andrew Needum had a bit of a spark in his eye. His head was held a little higher than it was just weeks prior. His wife stood proudly, smiling by his side with their two children nested happily between the couple.
I’m not sure Andrew Needum will ever be comfortable being called a hero, but today he was presented with the very honorable and prestigious Lone Star Award presented by Congressman John Ratcliffe. In three and a half years, there have only been seven recipients, including Needum, of the Lone Star Award, which recognizes ordinary people that are special for their own reasons, all having done extraordinary things.
Congressman John Ratcliffe called the award special and unique as he recalled the first Lonestar award was presented to a couple that took in a homeless man, gave him medical attention, restored his sight and helped put his life back together. Another recipient, he said, was a small business owner committed to raising a million dollars to send fallen soldiers’ children to college.
Needum was presented with a Lonestar Award Plaque and a United States flag from Mr. Ratcliff that has been proudly flown at the State Capital. He thanked Andrew for displaying the character it took to risk his own life to save someone else’s and Andrew in turn thanked his parents who were also on the flight for raising him to know what true character is.
Andrew, as humble as ever, is a self-proclaimed man of few words when it comes to public speaking. He said, “Not a day goes by that the tragedy doesn’t weigh heavily on our hearts. It wasn’t just me on that plane, it was my family.”
With one look across the fire station that morning towards his parents, wife and children, their cousins, aunts and uncles, all who were present today, you see the purity and blessings of a family that have turned a tragic life-altering experience into a reason to love each other a little better and hug each other a little tighter. The feeling carries over when you see his fellow Celina firefighters, their Chief, local police officers and friends with pride on their faces because he saved a little bit of all of us on that flight, just by being willing to do so.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake up and appreciate what seems so easy to take for granted. Sometimes it takes darkness and uncertainty to better recognize the sunlight at the end of a storm. This tragedy will have its effect on everyone who hears the story and an even bigger impact on the families that experienced it.
Andrew and his family won’t soon forget what they endured or the details of that day, but on June 1, 2018 he was given the Lonestar Award and with it brought a smile to his face, a twinkle back in his eye and a little bit of peace to everyone who witnessed it.
By Jodie Brownd