Just this month, Coast Guard Bosun Tracy Mannes, 31, was awarded the service’s Coast Guard Medal for her actions in 2017, during the shooting of concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. It is the highest honor in the service and the awards ceremony at Coast Guard Station Marathon was attended by the third highest ranking officer in the service: Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Jason M. Vanderhaden, as well as a slew of other dignitaries from Florida and the Keys.

“They kept shaking my hand and saying, ‘Thank you,’ but how can you respond to that?” shrugged Mannes. “There is nothing that can prepare you for this. It was a knee jerk reaction — from taking off my shirt to jumping on them.”

Mannes used her own body to shield her partner, best friend, and two young teenage girls they befriended at the concert. Her partner was hit three times in the leg. One of the teenager’s mothers was killed. In all, 58 people were killed, 422 were wounded, and about 851 were injured in the attack.

Mannes and her best friend, Tracy Huddleston who is also in the Coast Guard, both received the Coast Guard Medal. Mannes’ partner has recovered from her wounds. All three women are still shaken by the events, of course.

Mannes is a West Palm native who has served six years in the Coast Guard. She’s been ported in Cape Canaveral, Florida; attended bosun school in Virginia; and ported in Galveston, Texas, before moving to the Keys in June.

Mannes said she and Huddleston are humbled and honored by the award although they had no expectations of any recognition. Mannes was named 2017 Enlisted Person of the year for the Coast Guard’s 8th District, not only for her role during the shooting, but also her involvement in volunteering with school-age children as well as volunteering during Hurricane Harvey in Houston with the American Red Cross.

The Keys Weekly declines to name the shooter and, instead, repeat the words of the late Fred Rogers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping …  I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.”

Here is the story in her own words:

My partner and I flew out to Las Vegas for the festival and met up with my best friend, also in the Coast Guard, who was stationed in Los Angeles. On the last day of the concert, we befriended a family on the shuttle on the way over to the fairgrounds. There was a grandmother, her two daughters, and two granddaughters — 14 and 16 years old.

We moved between the two stages to watch the acts, and at one point, the teenage girls said they wanted to get closer to the stage. We said we would take them, and we maneuvered our way through the crowd until we were about 100 feet from the stage, while the grandmother and mothers stayed further back near the chairs.

At first, I thought the gunfire was just fireworks. I looked up, we all looked up, but there was nothing to see. I figured there were duds. Then there were more ‘fireworks’ and my partner said ‘I’m hit,’ and I was mad because I thought somebody was firing fireworks into the crowd. During the third round of bullets, the lights came on. We looked down and could see my partner had been shot in the leg. Then I understood somebody was shooting. I took my shirt off to bind my partner’s wound. And then she just sort of pirouetted and sat down, pulling my best friend and the two girls alongside and I just jumped on top to shield them with my body.

I just kept thinking, ‘I don’t want them to be hit.’

At some point, the mother of the 14-year-girl ran up. I think she was trying to pull us to safety. She fell on top of us. I thought she was trying to use her body as a shield, too. Her head ended up in the lap of my best friend and we realized she had been shot in the neck. We applied pressure, but at one point she stopped bleeding. My friend and I just looked at each other and we knew she had died.

During the next pause in gunshots, while [the shooter] was reloading, I guess, we ran for cover to a small bar. We needed to get the 14-year-old to safety, off the field, that was our duty. And then we made another run to the exit. From there we walked about a mile until a diner owner let us come inside. We waited five hours for an ambulance. My partner and I didn’t realize until later she had been shot three times, although the third was probably a ricochet.

Nothing can prepare you for this. And there is no ‘special lesson’ to learn. I love music and I won’t stop going to concerts. I am maybe more aware of my surroundings, and subconsciously noticing where the exits are, just in case …

The Coast Guard Medal is awarded to any service member who, while serving in any capacity with the United States Coast Guard, distinguishes themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The individual must have performed a voluntary act of heroism in the face of great personal danger or of such a magnitude that it stands out distinctly above normal expectations. The award was established in 1949, and the first awarded in 1958. It is the service’s highest honor, akin to the Air Force Medal.

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