It was a nightmare come true for Steven Jetton when the 44-year-old Marine Corps veteran, came face to face with death at Miramar beach.
The man of faith is sure that it was God who led him and his family to spend a few weeks in a Miramar Beach condominium, away from their Texas home during the pandemic.
He says it was God behind him buying a used surfboard which came handy to him on that dreadful afternoon.
It was a fun day for him and his family on Okaloosa Island’s Princess Beach a couple of Saturday afternoons ago and he was enjoying his surfboard. It was August 29 afternoon when he rescued a 12-year-old autistic boy and the boy’s 47-year-old uncle from a riptide that pulled them farther and farther out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Jetton used his recently purchased surfboard to swim out and help the swimmers until lifeguards could respond. “The details are just too obvious for me,” Jetton said, sitting Tuesday morning on the back porch of the Miramar Beach condominium where he, his wife, Rhodalynn, and their children — Judah, 13; Josiah, 11; Nevaeh, 8 and Noah, 6 — will be staying until sometime next month.
He has been living a Christ-centered life after turning away from “a party lifestyle” in his 20s, Jetton said God “just gave me strength for my own life ever since.” He had surfed during his time in the Marine Corps in California, but had been on a board only a few times in the 20 years since, and purchased a surfboard the day before the rescue on a whim.
After checking the surf conditions for the next day online, he landed up at a spot that was bad but was said to be good, at Princess Beach. About 10 minutes before they were leaving, the family heard a commotion a short distance away where the boy and his uncle were about 100 yards in the water, struggling to return to shore. “I looked up and down the beach, and knew I was the only one who could help them,” Jetton said.
God ordained moment
He grabbed his surfboard, and without thinking even once, he ran toward the panicking duo and hit the water with his board to contend with the challenging surf. “It wasn’t huge, but it was rough,” he said. “I got pretty angry at the ocean. I was like, ‘God, you’ve got to stop this.’” The water settled down a bit, he said, which gave him time to think about his own children back onshore, and to ask “Am I doing something stupid?”
This wasn’t the first time he was rescuing someone, he helped two swimmers in distress before as well on the same beach before. He said he experienced “a clear moment,” in which he knew “deep down in my own subconscious, I was going to be OK.”
Meanwhile, Jetton’s wife and children weren’t so sure. “In that split-second (when her husband started running down the beach and into the water) were like ‘What is he doing?’” Rhodalynn Jetton said. “Our hearts were pounding,” she continued. The children, she said, “we’re like, ‘Dad’s going to die!’” Jetton gathered her children around her, and they began praying that “everyone out there is going to be OK,” she said.
Steven Jetton was getting closer and closer to the boy and his uncle and by this time he was quite exhausted, Jetton remembered, the uncle told him to get the boy first. “That’s a good man right there,” Jetton said admiringly. The 12-year-old was barely above water, his ears and mouth about all that was visible and Jetton pulled closer to the boy and maneuvered him onto the surfboard, Jetton remembered, “The first thing he said was, ‘God must hate me.’”
God loves you
Jetton dispelled that notion from the boy instead by telling him, “God loves you … and there was someone he had out here to help you. … He had somebody on the beach with a surfboard with the ability to help you.” The uncle began swimming toward the surfboard. “Then I saw the lifeguards,” Jetton said, clearly relieved.
Local rescue teams with jet skis arrived on the scene and got Jetton, the boy and his uncle to shore. The boy and Jetton were taken to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and were released after some observation. Jetten even told them that he wanted to surf some more after the rescue, clearly pumped with adrenalin after the incident. “I might just take one of these waves,” he remembers telling a rescuer.
“He subtly talked me out of it,” Jetton also remembered Monday with a smile. Not surprisingly, that turned out to be a good thing.
“I was talking to the last lifeguard on the beach,” Jetton said, “and my legs gave out from under me.” The tired family went home and had Chick-fil-A.