The Tower

The Tower

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

The Tower

After the verb “to love,” “to help” is the most beautiful verb in the world.

Bertha Von Suttner

Am I my brother’s keeper? Absolutely!

James McNeil, age 17

Ten-year-old John McNeil ran barefoot out the door on a windy, cold day in February and headed straight for the 125-foot electrical tower behind the McNeil home. John didn’t realize the dangers of the structure, which carries power from Hoover Dam to the southern Arizona communities. He didn’t know that it carried 230,000 sizzling volts through its silver wires. He wasn’t even aware that he had forgotten his shoes. John suffers from autism, a condition that separates him from reality, forcing him to live within his own thoughts. That day his thoughts were set on climbing to the top of that tower, touching the sky and feeling what it’s like to fly.

He had scaled the gigantic jungle gym before, but he had never gotten beyond the twenty-foot handrails. His seventeen-year-old brother, James, was always watching, and close by. James always made sure that no harm came to his little brother. But today was different. Today, John ran out the door unnoticed before James realized that he was missing. John had already cleared the handrails and was making his way to the sky by the time James spotted his brother. John, like most autistic children, had absolutely no fear or concept of danger. James, on the other hand, realized that he had to face his greatest fear of all—the fear of heights.

James understood the danger of the electrical tower but chose to follow his younger brother up each gray rail, trying not to look down, all the way to the top. James finally reached his brother and held him tightly with his right hand. With his left hand, he gripped a metal bar to help stabilize them both.

James was shaking. He was cold and scared, but he never released his grip on John. John struggled, wanting to fly, but James held tight. James’s hands were numb, and he was afraid that if he let go, they would both fall to their death.

The minutes stretched into hours as they balanced on a three-inch rail. James sang hymns to soothe his own racing heart and to distract his brother from the rescue action taking place below.

Hundreds of people gathered at the base of the tower. They looked like ants to James, who saw them from high atop his perch. Noisy news helicopters began to circle, sending images of the two boys clinging to the tower against a bright blue sky to millions of television sets nationwide. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. One brave firefighter from the technical rescue squad climbed up the structure to where the two brothers hung on for their lives. He quickly tied them securely to a metal beam.

Part of the equipment needed to rescue James and John was a highly specialized truck called a Condor. Luckily, one was located at a nearby construction site. The rescuers patiently awaited its arrival, and at last, it was spotted moving along the road leading toward the tower. Once positioned, a platform was raised from the truck up to the boys sitting on the top rail of the tower. Secured with a safety line, the brothers and their rescuers were then carefully lowered to the ground as the crowd below cheered and applauded.

People were telling James that he was a hero, but James didn’t have any time for their praise. He wanted to be at his brother’s side while they transported John to the hospital, to be treated for exposure to the cold.

Not all guardian angels have feathered wings and golden halos. Most would not be recognized. Yet, on a windy, cold day, hundreds of people caught their first— and maybe only—glimpse of one, a seventeen-year-old guardian angel named James.

Robert J. Fern

[EDITORS’ NOTE: In honor of the courage that James demonstrated during
the rescue of his brother John, the Boy Scouts of America awarded him the
Heroism Award with Crossed Palms. James, who is an Eagle Scout, became only
the 113th person out of 100 million scouts since 1910 to receive this special

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