Heroism is and Heroism Does

Evergreen President Les Purce gives veteran Scott Bradley (left) an award of honor for saving Karen Matkin's life.  Photo courtesy of the Evergreen State College.

Evergreen President Les Purce gives veteran Scott Bradley (left) an award of honor for saving Karen Matkin’s life. Photo courtesy of the Evergreen State College.



It was one of the most emotional event I’ve ever seen at Evergreen. Barreling over a set of chairs and a few students in less than a heartbeat, U.S. Army veteran Scott Bradley jumped into action, saving a woman from choking to death, right in front of my eyes.

On April 10, Karen Matkin was enjoying a cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher. “I went to yawn, and felt it go down and get stuck,” she recalled. “And the harder I struggled to get it out the further down it went and then it blocked the windpipe.” As she told me the story in her own gripping words, I started to feel that the Jolly Rancher would not only last a long time, but, in this case, a lifetime. When Bradley realized Matkin was choking, he rushed over to her to perform the Heimlich. Matkin said she was only aware that Bradley had saved her life when she woke up.

“Scott’s my angel, and my daughters’,” she said emotionally. “It’s been personal, and I haven’t really come to grips with it yet, but it was amazing for that to happen—nobody out of 25 people knowing what to do—and have this guy that was trained, to know exactly what to do, and know exactly what it was that was happening—he saved my life.” She went on to say that after talking to Bradley, she wants to have a veteran in every classroom and reiterated that she is only alive now because he was in the room. I shed tears while hearing Matkin share her story.

Bradley was active duty Army. He was in the Triple Nickel Engineer brigade with the 14th Engineer Battalion and the 22nd Engineer Clearance Company (a route clearance company).

“I realized that she wasn’t vomiting because whatever was there wasn’t coming up quick enough and something else was wrong,” he said.

Watching this man barrel through the classroom was incredible—his need to act was instinctual, and it was one of the most heroic and amazing things I have ever seen. Bradley told me that it was his previous training of combat lifesaving that helped him immediately evaluate the situation and provide assistance. He went on to say that repetitive training, to expect the worst and hope for the best, is a valuable part of your psych, and that once you have it you can carry it everywhere and you’ll always be prepared to help in those situations.

“All of us vets are behind the scenes, and we’re working and helping wherever we can,” he said. Bradley, as modest as he is, admitted that saving her life made him feel good.

When we think of heroism, we may think of Superman or a comic book hero, or maybe we think of firefighters or police officers putting their lives on the line. We rarely think of a military veteran as a hero, unless they are a member of your family or unless you are patriotic. This story is the difference between heroism as an idea and heroism as an action.

When it comes to making critical decisions, Veterans Center Director Randy Kelley said, “You need to make a decision and you need to take action, and you need to take action relatively soon because not taking action is a form of action”.

If critical thinking is a major piece of The Evergreen State College’s learning style, then who better to learn from than a veteran? Evergreen is a learning environment that provides others the experience to see and hear things from a unique perspective. And when we come across life threatening emergencies here on campus, even some of our own Evergreen police officers are military or Air Force reserve, like Tammi Stretch, who happened to be one of the officers who responded to Matkin’s emergency.

In closing, I would like to say thank you to our community of veterans. Their daily actions make our world a safer place, even though they are no longer on the battlefield and live their lives among us here at Evergreen.