Brandon Manion sits on a bench outside the Capreol Millenium Centre. On the bench is an inscription, "In Memory of Dakota Gervais."
Manion won't make eye contact, his body turned away. He chews on a fingernail and fidgets uncomfortably. His answers are short and he doesn't smile.
The 14-year-old doesn't want to talk about June 26, 2011. But he does. He recounts the day like it was yesterday.
"I jumped in after my drowning friend," Manion said. "I went to swim across to the rock, and he came after, but the current took him to the left. Then he hit the dropoff. I jumped in. He bear-hugged me, brought me under with him. Then he let go, and went out to the centre of the river.
"Then when I got back to shore, I tried to jump back in after him, but he was gone."
It was an area of the Vermillion River that the teens swam in regularly. But on that day, one year ago, the water levels were unseasonably high, due to heavy rain fall.
Dakota Gervais' body was found the following day by OPP divers in the Vermillion River. Gervais was 14 and Manion's best friend.
On June 13, Manion, a master corporal with the 2915 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps of Capreol, was presented with a Cadet Medal of Bravery. It is the highest national honour that can be bestowed on a member of the Royal Canadian Sea, Army or Air Cadets and is awarded to a cadet who performs an outstanding deed of valour involving risk of life in attempting to save the life or property of others.
The Grade 8 C.R. Judd Public School student is just the 21st cadet to receive the award in the past 65 years. However, that didn't make him feel any better about accepting it.
In fact, he said it felt "strange."
Commanding Officer Joan Dumontelle was responsible for nominating Manion for the award.
"I just wanted to make sure that he knew he had done nothing wrong," she said. "He took it pretty hard because it was his best friend ... and he wanted to save him."
Gervais was also a fellow cadet.
When Christy Manion found out her son was receiving the medal, she said "there was shock, especially because of the turn of events and that he wasn't able to save him."
But more than shock, the mother said she felt immense pride.
"I don't think pride even covers it," she said. "Especially since it was letting him know that he didn't do anything wrong.
"After Dakota had passed, it was quite a battle of emotions," Christy continued.
"As much as Brandon prefers to be out of the spotlight, and in the background, I think it was really important for him to realize that what he did was right."
"It was very admirable," Dumontelle added.
Posted by Laurel Myers