Byers is a hero of Katrina

Published: September 21, 2006 | 4811th good news item since 2003

Seabees are known more for their construction and battle skills than their prowess in the water. But retired Seabee Doug Byers put his swimming skills to the test the day of Hurricane Katrina when he was working as a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy in D’Iberville.

His long swim, and the lifesaving efforts that came with it, earned Byers the honor of Law Enforcement Officer of the Year from the Mississippi Veterans of Foreign Wars. He won the award over other deputies from throughout the state’s 82 counties.

“We all did our best,” the modest Byers said when he received the award this week at the D’Iberville City Council meeting. But others say there’s more to it than that.

“He’s a true hero. He rose above,” Harrison County Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. said.

The story begins with Byers, who has been on patrol in the city for three years, setting out the morning of the hurricane to rescue District 1 Constable Windy Swetman, who had reported by phone that floodwaters were rising around his D’Iberville home. But the five-ton Army truck Byers was driving stalled and became engulfed in surge waters and he found himself in danger of drowning.

Byers struck out swimming in search of higher ground. He came upon a man and two women struggling to stay afloat in the water. Calling to them that he was a sheriff’s deputy, Byers pulled the trio to him as the flood swept all four people down Central Avenue.

He saved the women by putting them inside a huge drainage pipe that was floating by, then took the man to safe ground elsewhere.

Byers then went to a shelter at D’Iberville High School, found help and set out again to successfully retrieve the people he had rescued.

“He did his duty, but that’s not what I thought was extraordinary,” said sheriff’s Capt. Windy Swetman, Byers’ supervisor and the son of Constable Swetman. “He literally put those people’s lives in his hands and he never wavered one time.”

Swetman nominated Byers for the VFW award. As for his own father, the senior Swetman survived the floods by taking refuge in a tree for several hours.

“Even the buzzards wouldn’t take him,” Payne joked.

Published in Heroes, Hurricane Katrina
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