U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter, right, reads a citation for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal given to Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler. Dennler received the medal - the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the U.S. Department of the Navy - for heroic actions while leading a Boy Scout troop in July 2016. Photo by Kenneth Aston/NNS.

Boys State alum earns Navy's highest non-combat heroism medal

A former American Legion Jersey Boys State citizen and staff counselor has received the Navy’s highest non-combat decoration for heroism.

Jonathan Dennler received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Jan. 10. He is a midshipman 3rd class at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he transferred after two years at George Washington University.

Dennler received the honor for his actions while leading a Boy Scout troop from Texas on a camping trip in Ontario, Canada, last July.

A major storm struck the Quetico Provincial Park by surprise with 80 mph gusts and lightning strikes. Two trees fell on the troop’s campsite, killing a 13-year-old Scout and a female adult volunteer, and severely injuring others.

Unable to contact help on the radio, Dennler canoed more than 1.5 miles at night in 60 mph winds to a ranger station to bring back help and medical supplies.

The Navy and Marine Corps medal falls in order of precedence just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star. It was first bestowed during World War II, to then Lt. John F. Kennedy, and has been awarded only about 3,000 times since.

To win the award, there must be evidence the act of heroism involved specific life-threatening risk to the awardee.

Dennler told the Navy News Service that the Naval Academy “has taught me how to work and think in environments where many things are out of my control, and I think the academy helps to create mindsets that put others first. I am incredibly thankful for those lessons.”

Dennler attended Jersey Boys State in 2012, winning election as mayor of his city and later, state senator. He volunteered as a city counselor at Jersey Boys State in 2013 and 2014 while attending George Washington.

"Jonathan Dennler embodies the virtues of American Legion Jersey Boys State," said David S. Bagatelle, director of American Legion Jersey Boys State. "Our mission is to inspire the youth of New Jersey to become good citizens devoted to American ideals. We're proud of him – for his courage and commitment to country."

An active member of the academy's Semper Fi Society, Dennler hopes to serve in the Marine Corps after graduating from the academy in 2019.