Michael Leming bears a striking resemblance to his father, Reis, hero of the 1953 Floods, but the likeness does not end there, because as a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue Team, Michael has helped to save many lives, often at considerable risk to his own life.
After flying into Heathrow from Oregon last Wednesday he drove his sister, Debra Leming-Ross and Reis’s widow, Kathy to Hunstanton.
In spite of this long journey, the next morning Michael was up early, composing the following letter to his late father:
‘Dad, I started running before sunrise along the very sea wall that was breached 60 years ago today. It was cold and the wind was a constant 30 miles per hour, or thereabouts. I was tired and wanted to turn back, but kept going as I thought about what you had endured that cold and lonely night.
While others ran to save themselves from the icy flooding sea and 100 miles per hour winds, you ran towards them. Why? What was going through your head? Were you scared? Did you think you might die as well that night?
I know you were haunted until your last day by the cries of so many who lost their lives that night, but what other sounds did you hear? What is the sound of utter destruction – of a town being ripped apart by the very sea that had drawn people to live so close to its shores? Does this Hell have a smell; a taste; a feeling in your soul?
When you finally awoke, after collapsing with exhaustion and hypothermia and saw that bright light above you, how long was it before you realized you were not in heaven but had survived? Were you finally warm? Could you even feel your frozen body? Did the pain in your body resemble the pain in your head and heart? How long was it before you could sleep through the night?
For 60 years this nation has welcomed you back and celebrated your heroism. Those 27 people you saved have had children, many of whom have had children of their own and some of those are now grandparents. Do you have any idea of the lives you touched?
There are so many definitions of a hero, but I like yours the best: “I was in the wrong place at the right time!”
I love you father, Michael…