By Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav
Massachusetts National Guard
NEW YORK (11/9/12) – “When we saw it coming down, we couldn’t believe it,” said Rose Miller, 85, recalling how Hurricane Sandy battered the Rockaway section of Queens.
Rose and her husband Leonard Miller, 95, lived in a house one block from the roiling Atlantic Ocean. “It was scary,” she said.
“Well, you better get out today,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Nuttall, platoon leader, 2nd platoon, 772nd Military Police Company, Massachusetts Army National Guard, as he stood in the family’s second-floor apartment. “When it rains again there’s going to be a little more flooding.”
Nuttall and some of his men had been stationed at a nearby Catholic church that was being used as a distribution point for residents to receive aid. Spc. James Maltais, a military police officer in Nutall’s platoon, was helping to distribute some of the aid when a woman approached him.
“She said she had two elderly … in-laws stuck in their upstairs apartment and couldn’t get out down the street,” said Maltais. “The street was all blocked with trash and debris; they weren’t going to be able to walk out of there.”
The woman was Alice Miller, Rose and Leonard’s daughter-in-law. She and her husband Jeff lived in the downstairs apartment.
When the warning went out that residents should leave before Hurricane Sandy reached shore, Leonard Miller refused to leave. He had grown up in his house. So Leonard, Rose, Alice and her husband Jeff rode out the storm in the house.
“We lost our cars,” said Jeff, who walks with a cane, “we were basically stranded.”
For over a week they lived in their home, with no heat or electricity and survived on what supplies they had and what they could receive from the local distribution centers. When they heard that a storm was supposed to hit the area late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Alice went to look for help.
Maltais found Nuttall and briefed him on the situation. They quickly went into the church and asked to borrow some shovels. Alice gave the Guardsmen directions to the house and went to find her vehicle. After gathering another military police officer, Spc. Joseph Pollini, the three set out to the house.
The street was filled with debris and the sand from the beach had been piled over four feet high in some places. A large front-end loader from the city’s sanitation department was slowly making its way down the street, piling the sand on the sides of the street.
Nuttall approached the driver, explained what they were trying to do and asked if he could clear part of the Miller’s driveway so the residents could evacuate. As the truck driver began the slow process, Nuttall and his men waited for Alice before entering the house to evacuate Rose and Leonard.
“Her eyes lit up when we walked into the room,” said Nuttall, “she was so happy to see us.”
After a brief conversation, Pollini and Nuttall took Rose and Leonard’s bags downstairs while Maltais stayed with them in their apartment.
“These folks really needed our help. It was cold in there,” Maltais said. “They were bundled up. They definitely needed our help. Both of them told me that they thought that they were going to die there, that they were going to freeze to death there. So getting them out of there, keeping their spirits up … telling them that ‘you know what, this may be bad but it will get cleaned up and that things will get back to normal; just give it time.’ It made me feel good to see them smile and realize that this isn’t the end of days for them.”
Alice entered her own home to gather her husband and their belongings. While they were inside, the front-end loader cleared enough of the area in front of the home that the Miller’s vehicle was able to enter the sand-filled driveway.
After seeing how the piled sand made walking the short distance from the front steps of the Miller’s house for anyone, let alone an elderly couple who both needed canes to walk -- Pollini grabbed discarded cabinet doors and other pieces of wood that had been damaged and began to construct a walkway.
When everything was in place, Pollini helped Leonard down the steps and toward the vehicle.
Together he and Nuttall carefully helped Leonard into the vehicle across the back seat. Maltais helped Rose toward the vehicle and together he and Pollini gently helped her in.
“This is too much work,” said Rose, “maybe I should stay.”
No, said the Soldiers, you are two thirds of the way in.
Eventually Rose made it into the vehicle, but before the door closed she insisted on taking each one by the hand and thanking them.
“Stay well,” said Rose, “be safe.”
After the Miller’s had left; Nuttall, Maltais and Pollini headed back to distribute more relief supplies.
“You know what?” Nuttall said to Maltais and Pollini, “That right there is why I joined the National Guard.”