My last memory of Ventura Harbor Patrol Officer Paul Korber, a man I never actually met, was of the sun glistening on his chest as he pulled off his shirt and dived into the cold, heaving ocean.
I had just summoned the Harbor Patrol a few minutes earlier, after a frantic woman asked if I could use my Wave Runner to aid in a rescue on the other side of Ventura Harbor's south jetty. With Harbor Operations Manager Scott Miller and Paul in the boat beside me, we raced toward the scene, the officers to do their job, and I to help in any way I could.
He helped to rescue a mother and her two young children who had become caught in a riptide. But in saving their lives, Paul lost his own.
As I sit here today, I am overwhelmed by the significance of that final act. The image of Paul's not graceful but determined dive into the Pacific gains significance as the days roll by. Some things, I feel, need to be said and probably can't be by an objective reporter. For this reason I feel compelled to write.
We often hear comments directed at firefighters, lifeguards, harbor patrols and other safety professionals about the ease of their jobs. In the absence of catastrophe, some people assume their work is rather inconsequential. But those of us who have been saved--and I was two years ago at that same jetty--know the real truth. And the truth is that if 364 days go by without incident, and on the 365th that man or woman has to break through a burning door or swim out through the swells on a big day, then he or she in that moment earns everything we pay them.
For Paul Korber and his family, that debt can never be paid. But we understand the value of his commitment.
Nobody knows that more than Karen Van Deventer and her two sons, the people Paul helped to save. They have, I'm sure, learned a tragic lessons about the ocean that no one can afford to ignore, especially those of us with children. Indeed, it is one of the most beautiful and yet mercilessly powerful forces in the world. This rescue was a sobering reminder of that, and to acknowledge this and take proper care would be the most fitting tribute we could pay to Paul's sacrifice.
For Paul's 9-year-old son Barrett, who lost his mother to cancer three years ago: There are a few things that I hope will help you remember when you search for the answers.
Your father dived into the ocean to save people's lives, two of them children about your age. As he swam toward those boys, he took his experience, his commitment and his courage with him, and he helped those people to see another day.
"Hero" is a strong word, Barrett, but your dad is a hero. We would all like to have the stuff that made your dad dive into the ocean that day, but few of us have it. I saw it firsthand, and I will never forget that dive for the rest of my life. I hope you will remember it with pride.