ALBANY, GA (WALB) - An Iraq War veteran with South Georgia roots just returned home after coming to the aid of more than 30 Texans, stranded after Hurricane Harvey.
On Monday, from his Newnan home, Fletcher Sams said that the skills he learned over a lifetime in the rivers and back-woods of Georgia served him on the flood front-lines more than his service as a paratrooper.
Just 48 hours after his first Facebook Live post at 9:28 a.m. on August 31, Sams rescued more than 30 people and sunk the shallow boat he hauled 720 miles to far-eastern Texas.
"You know, we didn't do high water rescues in the military. Most of that (knowledge) is just from being a good old boy from South Georgia that goes duck hunting and fishing in crazy places," explained Sams.
It was duck hunting online groups that first alerted Sams to the need for experienced people, like him, to help pull stranded people out of their flooded homes.
Between rescues, when driving to flooded cities including Vitter, Orange, Beaumont, and Katy, Sams would use Facebook Live to document his solo journey and communicate with his friends and family.
He went alone because, "The less people I had with me, the more people I could haul," in his four-seater boat.
"The oldest person I picked up was, I think, 82. The youngest, 10 months," said Sams during one of his posts.
He even rescued a family of eight who had returned to their home after the storm, only to get stuck in the flood waters.
Using the Zello app and a radio name of 'Shark 311', Sams was able to communicate with dispatchers on the status of his rescues.
"It was very impromptu, but they put it together very well. And, I was pretty impressed with the civilian response to the emergency," said Sams.
Sams said the 'hundreds and hundreds' of civilians he witnessed coming to the rescue of strangers was inspiring.
"The military did a lot. What I saw, the people pulling people out, was guys in jon boats and air boats that did not have government stickers on them," said Sams. "My take-away from all of this is that we still live in a place where when people see people in distress, they respond without thinking twice about it. And, they respond in mass, and they come together and they actually get things done."
Sams intention was to remain in East Texas until he wasn't needed, but that came to a sudden end during what became his final rescue in the dark, early morning hours on Saturday, September 2.
Sams' boat was damaged while he was backing down a hill and into the water.
It took on the water quickly and had to be cut when it started to pull on his truck.
Thankfully, he was unharmed and is now back home with his wife and two young daughters.
"I am proud of him. And, I am sorry he lost his boat," said Sams' father-in-law, Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta.
Sams is the son of Fayette County Superior Court Judge Fletcher Sams, and the grandson of the famed Georgia novelist, Ferrol Sams, author of 'Run with the Horseman' and 'When All the World was Young'.
Sams works for Care, an international aid organization, who quickly agreed to his request for time off to aid in the Harvey rescue.
For those that want to help, but can't travel to Texas or Louisiana, Sams shared an idea.
'They got a lot of boats that weren't being used on Friday and Saturday. What they are needing is supplies, but what they are getting is a lot of stuff that would be going to Goodwill, like used clothes and stuff like that,' said Sams.
He suggested home improvement gift cards for people getting back into their homes now, to help them 'get a new start.'
Sams served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, known as 'Sky Soldiers' out of Vincenza, Italy between 2001-2005, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003-2004.
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