Carnegie Hero Joseph P. Cockerill, center, receives the Carnegie Medal presented by Nebraska Lt. Gov. Joe Kelley, left, and Nebraska Sen. Beau Ballard at a ceremony held Sept. 11 at the Waverly, Nebraska, Community Foundation Building.
Two years earlier, Cockerill was on his way to work when he saw a tractor trailer on fire. The truck’s unconscious driver remained in his seat as flames entered the passenger compartment. Cockerill attempted to remove the man from the cab, but his foot was caught between the seat and the center console.
It was then that Cockerill entered the cab and amid the flames, he yanked as hard as he could, he later said, and the driver’s foot finally popped free. He and another man then pulled the driver from the wreckage. Flames grew as high as 20 feet and spread to completely engulf the passenger compartment and set fire to nearby grass.
Cockerill told reporters at the ceremony that receiving the medal was an honor.
“When you go and read what all the people that have been awarded it before me did — to be put in the same category is quite humbling,” Cockerill told a Waverly News reporter.
In addition to Kelley and Ballard, Waverly Mayor Bill Gerdes, Lancaster County Chief Deputy Ben Houchin, and County Commissioner Rick Vest recognized Cockerill at the public award ceremony. Waverly council members, city staff, and Cockerill’s family also attended.
“It’s one of the most prestigious awards that the United States and Canada give to civilians,” Gerdes said.