LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE/RNN) - What could have been a story with a horrifying ending has turned into a celebration of the human spirit.
This past Mother's Day, a semi-truck jackknifed, rolled and burst into flames. The driver was still inside.
A few bystanders did all they could to pull the driver to safety, but failed – until a man stopped to pull the man from the cab of the burning truck.
Everyone knew exactly what the man had done, but at the end of the day no one knew who he was for some time. Now that he has been identified, he is being recognized and honored for his selfless act.
Sgt. First Class Mario King served two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which he earned two Meritorious Service Medals, and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where he earned his third Meritorious Service Medal for his leadership as an S6 Non-commissioned Officer in Charge at Camp in As Sayliyah, Qatar.
It was not on a battlefield, but in the cab of a burning truck on a Kentucky highway where King risked his life, crawling into the flames to drag out truck driver Burl Bowling.
The U.S. Army Human Resources Command complex was filled with family, friends, soldiers and officers as King was honored for his bravery and self-sacrificing actions.
"Sgt. First Class King risked his own life to save the life of a fuel truck driver," declared the announcer as music played and audience members stood on their feet.
King, who was once a mystery man, was presented the highest peacetime award for heroism that the Secretary of the Army can bestow upon a soldier.
"It is with great pride that we honor your heroism today and present you with the Soldier's Medal," Maj. Gen. Jason T. Evans proclaimed with a smile.
Waiting anxiously for his moment to speak was truck driver Burl Doug Bowling. It was Bowling who was caught in the cab of the burning semi-truck on Mother's Day of 2018.
"I came here to thank Mr. King," he said with a smile and a quiet chuckle. "He's a lot bigger than you think he is. He grabbed me and went with me."
With combat hospital training, tours in the Middle East and enlistment as a soldier for 17 years, King said he tries his best to do the right thing at all times.
"I truly thank you and will appreciate it the rest of my life," Bowling said, smiling.
It's a life Bowling gets a second chance to live after being freed from a burning tanker hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline.
"Mr. Bowling, I'm truly thankful to God that you are here today with us," King proclaimed with his voice almost in a quiver.
He was aware by watching local newscasts that he was being called "The Mystery Man." He was still on scene as first responders arrived, and he and his wife did not leave until they knew that Bowling was all right.
King felt it was more appropriate for him to stay on the sidelines quietly, because there was nothing else he could do, and attention is never anything he seeks.
"My co-worker Terry Conner, who contacted the news stations, said, 'Hey, that's not a mystery guy!'" King explained, laughing."'That's my brother and that's my co-worker!'"
The close-knit U.S. Army Human Resources Command was very proud of the man who risked his own life for a total stranger.
"He made us all proud as Americans," Maj. Gen. Evans boasted. "He made us all proud as soldiers."