State honors heroic acts

'We understood the danger. It's what you train for,'

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DES MOINES — Retired law officer David Elledge said the only down side of receiving one of the first Historic Valor Awards is that the man who saved his life almost 25 years ago wasn’t present to be honored with him Wednesday at a Statehouse ceremony.

Elledge, a former deputy in the Delaware County sheriff’s office, was one of 10 officers honored for heroic efforts to save the lives of Iowans. Seven received the Sullivan Brothers’ Award of Valor, and Elledge was among three honored with the newly created Historic Valor Award.

On Nov. 6, 1981, Elledge and fellow Delaware County sheriff’s deputy Duncan Gross responded to a disturbance in which an armed suspect had taken refuge in a rural, wooded area. Resisting arrest, the assailant fired five rounds from his .357 magnum at Elledge, striking him once in the abdomen and once in the foot.

Elledge said he feared for his life “because when I put my hand up to the wound, every time my heart would beat, I could feel blood pumping out through my fingers. My little boy was 4 years old at the time, and the first thought that went through my mind is what’s he going to do without a daddy?”

Qccording to a state Department of Public Safety description on the events that followed, “Elledge’s life was spared in no small measure by the decisive actions taken by Duncan Gross to disarm the suspect and render lifesaving assistance to his fallen comrade.”

Both Gross and Elledge survived the incident. Gross eventually retired from law enforcement and since has passed away, while Elledge became a state Department of Natural Resources officer until he retired. Gross’ widow, Gean, accepted the award from Gov. Terry Branstad posthumously for her husband at Wednesday’s ceremonies in the state Capitol rotunda.

“It’s an honor to be honored,” Elledge said after the ceremony. “I only wish that Duncan Gross could have been here, because if it weren’t for Duncan Gross I wouldn’t be alive.”

The other Historic Valor Award recipient was Noel Harlan, a former Keosauqua fire chief recognized for saving a man who was on fire near Harlan’s house in September 2014.

Among the Sullivan Brothers’ Award of Valor recipients were four members of the Cedar Falls Fire Rescue squad — Capt. Derek Brown and firefighters Shane Farmer, T.J. Taylor and Troy Purdy. They responded to a trailer fire Feb. 7 where a mother and her two children were trapped.

Seven firefighters who arrived at the burning residence were told three people were in the structure, according to state Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan. Brown and Farmer entered without a hose line and searched in zero visibility.

“Usually, we’re in a team and we stick together. But in this situation, we made the decision that time was critical, and so we went without a hose line which isn’t typical,” Brown said.

With the assistance of Taylor and Purdy, the firefighters found the children and their mother and move them to safety within 90 seconds of arriving at the scene.

“We understood the danger. It’s what you train for,” Brown noted.

Also honored Wednesday with the Medal of Valor were Lt. Dennis Mernka and officer Nathan Eldredge of the Fort Dodge Police Department and Iowa State Patrol Trooper Matt Eimers. He responded last Dec. 12 to a call of a distressed man on the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over the Des Moines River basin in Fort Dodge and saved his life.

“The citizens of Iowa are grateful,” Branstad told the 10 honorees during Wednesday’s ceremony. “What each of you has done is nothing short of heroic. We just want to say we’re proud of you.”

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