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Kingston man wins Carnegie Medal for rescuing child at Scituate beach

A Kingston man has won a Carnegie Medal for heroism and an accompanying $5,000 grant for saving a 10-year-old boy from drowning last year at a Scituate beach.

In a statement on its website, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission said that Robert Eli Meyer, 29, rescued Johaun B. Bennett on May 14, 2011 after Bennett had been playing in knee-deep water and was suddenly swept farther out by a strong undertow.

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The commission said that Meyer, an assistant nursing home administrator, was working at a nearby property when he spotted Johaun.

“Meyer then entered the 50-degree water and waded and swam through the surf about 300 feet to Johaun,” the statement said. “He established a hold on Johaun with one arm and with the other began to swim to shore.”

In a phone interview on Wednesday night, Meyer said that initially, “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, is this really going to have to be me?’ ”

He said Johaun and his younger brother, Mekai, were visiting the beach that day with a man from a Big Brother program. He said the man had rescued Mekai but was unable to reach Johaun.

Meyer said he acted on impulse when he entered the frigid water, and that saving Johaun was gratifying.

“It felt very good,” he said, adding that he was honored to be awarded the medal.

“I really appreciate everything that Andrew Carnegie set up,” Meyer said. “And just to win something that he had set up is pretty nice.”

Carnegie, an industrialist and philanthropist, established the commission in 1904, after a coal mine explosion near Pittsburgh killed 181 people, including two men who entered the mine after the blast in an effort to save workers, the commission’s website says.

Medals are awarded throughout the United States and Canada to recipients who have been nominated for risking their lives to save others. Meyer said a co-worker nominated him without his knowledge.

He was one of 18 recipients whose names were announced on Wednesday, and 81 people have been honored this year. Since the fund’s inception, 9,576 people have won medals and received a combined $34.8 million in grants, scholarships, death benefits, and continuing aid, according to the commission’s website.

Prior winners have included Massachusetts State Trooper Allyson Powell, who was honored for rescuing a man from a burning Jeep in July 2010 in Swansea. The Globe reported at the time that she was aided by three good Samaritans.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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