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You were so brave, we wish you a healthy, long and happy life.

Byline: Nick McCarthy

THE family of a US airman who was rescued from the wreckage of a burning helicopter by a Royal Marine from Solihull say they will be "forever in his debt".

Lance Corporal Ryan Shelley was awarded the George Medal for rescuing three crew members after their helicopter was shot down by a rocketpropelled Taliban grenade.

The 26-year-old and four of his Marine colleagues clambered into the downed helicopter as the armourpiercing ammunition and aviation fuel on board exploded around them.

The crash, which happened in enemy territory in June 2010, instantly killed the four-man medical team, but the brave Marines managed to rescue the two unconscious pilots and the door gunner by cutting off the boots that trapped him inside.

L/Cpl Shelley is a medic with 40 Commando and has two children aged just two and six months.

He returned to the burning wreckage three times and even performed an emergency tracheotomy to open the airways of the pilot.

David Wisniewski, the 31-year-old pilot who he saved, died of his injuries in hospital in America a month after the crash and has since been buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

But the door gunner, Master Sgt Christopher Aguilera, and the co-pilot, Anthony Simone, survived the crash.

The co-pilot's aunt said the married dad-of-one was recovering from a serious head injury at a specialist rehabilitation centre in Florida.

The 30-year-old captain, who lives with his family in Joliet, near Chicago, was just three days away from returning to the US on leave when the helicopter was shot down.

His aunt is sending a letter to L/Cpl Shelley to personally thank him for his actions.

Mary Ann Sledgen, who lives in California, said: "Anthony is like a son to me as I never had children.

"I thank God for his wife Andrea and the love they have for each other. It has been a long road and they still have a long way to go.

"Our families would especially like to thank Lance Corporal Ryan Shelley for his bravery in rescuing the three crew members. "We are forever in his debt and wish him a long, healthy and happy life.

"We mourn for all the fallen heroes and thank God for the survival of Anthony and Christopher."

Serving soldier L/Cpl Shelley was unavailable for comment last night, but his proud mum said the day he collected his medal had been "awesome."

Speaking from her home in Shirley, 52-year-old school uniform seller Susan Shelley, added: "It is absolutely wonderful that the family in America have made contact.

"It really will mean the world to Ryan.

"He cannot understand why he has got the medal ahead of his colleagues. He is golden and very modest."


Recovering: Anthony Simone with his son Will and wife Andrea. Marine life: L/Cpl Shelley. Proud day: Lance Corporal Ryan Shelley is decorated with the George Cross by the Prince of Wales last month.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jul 11, 2011
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