(WBIR - Great Smoky Mountains) A Maryville Boy Scout is getting national recognition for saving another child's life in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year.
12-year-old Emery Benson had just earned his swimming merit badge last summer when he went on a hike along Big Creek with his mother and some family friends.
"Mouse Creek Falls is normally nothing. The water is just a trickle. But last summer the water was really bad because there had been so much rain," said Diane Benson, Emery's mother. "The rapids were fiercer than usual. It was way too rough to swim."
As the families ate lunch at Mouse Creek Falls, 7-year-old Devon Leslie crept closer to the water's edge.
"He was standing on a rock and my little boy just kind of slipped in," said Devon's mother Laurie Leslie. "I could only see his little eyes and then he disappeared around the other side of a boulder. The water was rushing so fast it just swept Devon away. There was this sense of hopelessness because there was absolutely nothing I could do. I was upstream looking down from at least 10 feet above the rocks. I screamed bloody murder."
The raging waters were taking Devon directly towards a set of rocky falls. The only person who was in a position to help was Emery Benson.
"There was no one standing anywhere near Devon who could reach him. At that moment, that moment was Emery's. Emery jumps right in without even a second thought," said Laurie Leslie.
"I heard his mom scream and I saw him hit the water and start being swept down," said Emery. "I threw down my food and just jumped in and went kind of diagonally to intercept him. The water, it was really fast. It was taking a lot of energy just to not be swept right under. I couldn't touch the bottom. He [Devon] saw me, and he was kind of reaching for me a little bit. I grabbed him and almost like bear-hugged him. And I swam him down to a rock and held him there until we were able to climb out."
When the flood of adrenaline subsided, Emery's bravery began to sink in with the group.
"It was really terrifying because here I'm watching my boy be swept away. Then my friend Diane's only son is jumping in and putting himself in danger to save Devon. We were really shaky after that, but I am so thankful Emery did what he did," said Leslie.
"It didn't really hit me until I got out of the water what had happened. Later that night I was just lying in bed and thought, 'Well dang. That was scary.' It is sort of scary to think about because it really could have gone all wrong," said Emery.
"I was very proud of him that day for what he did," said Diane Benson. "I think I also got an appreciation for everything he's learning in Boy Scouts. Because I feel like if we're going to be out there, it's nice to feel like he's getting some training."
This summer, Emery completed his life-saving merit badge at his mother's request. Now he is officially trained for the type of rescue he performed last summer.
With a growing collection of silver-rimmed badges, Emery is around halfway to becoming an Eagle Scout. But a couple of weeks ago, he learned the Boy Scouts of America will present him with a rare award. This February, Emery will receive the BSA's honor medal for his heroic actions in saving another person's life.
"We found out a couple of weeks ago. It is kind of weird because I don't want people to think I'm bragging. So getting all of this attention, I guess it is a little embarrassing. But I am happy," said Emery. "The thing I'm most proud of is that my scout masters thought I was worthy of being nominated for the award."
One of the people who led the push for Emery to receive the award was Laurie Leslie.
"It was a delicate thing because Devon had nightmares for several weeks. So you do not want to make your child keep reliving a traumatic event. At the same time, I wanted to make sure it was known what Emery did. I am trilled the Boy Scouts have opted to recognize Emery in this way. To do what Emery did is really unbelievable," said Laurie Leslie.
Devon Leslie says he's also happy to know Emery will receive the honor medal.
"I think he very much deserves it. Because what might have happened is I went off the waterfall and got knocked out. I pretty much call it saving my life," said Devon.
Scouts Fall Roundup
Right now the Boy Scouts of America is starting its "fall roundup" to recruit new members. Scout leaders will be visiting schools across 21 counties in East Tennessee from now through September.
If you know a child who may be interested in joining the Scouts, you can find more information at this link to the website of the Great Smoky Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America.