Award Recipient

Benjamin J. Papapietro

Awarded: Knight Commander’s Medal – March 7, 2009

When Ben Papapietro decided to respond to a woman’s cries for help after the trolley he was riding in crashed, he had no idea that his actions would garner such wide news coverage and recognition from KA. Heading home from his second day at his internship with the Boston Redsox, Papapiertro was jolted out of a relaxing ride on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Trolley when it collided with another train car and made “the scariest sound I’ve ever heard,” he later said. In an instant he was surrounded by crumpling steel, a shower of sparks that turned into flames, and the passengers’ mad dash to pry open the doors as smoke filled the trolley. Papapiertro sprinted from the train, terrified it was going to burn up or explode. Unharmed, he looked back at the wreckage in disbelief of what had happened. He then heard screams coming from the car and could not ignore them.

“It was a matter of how long you could have listened to these people screaming inside the train,” he said afterward“I guess my breaking point was just sooner than everyone else’s.”

He then climbed back into the train and found Min Perry, 37, who was trapped in the debris with her legs pinned, bleeding and in agony. “She was screaming … the worst screams I’ve ever heard in my life,” he later recalled.

As David Abel from the Boston Globe reported:
Papapietro, barely a year out of high school, managed to stay calm enough to take off his shirt and urged Perry to breathe through it rather than inhale the noxious fumes. didn’t want this lady to die right in front of me,” he said. “I’m trying to keep her going, doing everything I can, but at the same time doing nothing, because I can’t do anything. It’s the most helpless feeling in the world.”

Down on his knees, he pleaded with Perry to stay conscious. He grabbed her hand, imploring her to keep squeezing. “Hey, keep your eyes open,” he told her. Keep looking in my eyes.It worked. Slowly, she began to relax

When rescue workers arrived, they were carrying the Jaws of Life .. .It took about 20 minutes to free Perry, and she was rushed to the hospital with some bad cuts and a broken ankle.

The two met later at Boston Medical Center “If it wasn’t for his actions, she may not be around,” Joe Perry, the victim’s husband, said shortly after the crash. “It’s hard to put into words your appreciation for his actions. You don’t meet people of his caliber.”

Transit officials hailed Papapietro. “I think we cloud the definition of hero today,” MBTA Police Chief Paul MacMillan said at the time. But under any definition, he’s a hero.In September, Papapietro received the Commonwealth’s Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery.

Papapietro, speaking from his Arizona campus, says he feels more self-confident today because of what happened and his actions in that moment. “I had never been in a situation like that before, but now know how I would react if something like that happens again. Its a good thing to know about yourself.(end excerpt)