A hero’s welcome Philadelphia man honored for heroic rescue of local residents

The adage “Once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout” was particularly true for a Philadelphia man who was honored on Jan. 20 at La Reggia restaurant in Secaucus for helping to save the lives of two Secaucus residents last summer.

Gregory Worthington rescued Rose Marie Maccaro, the organist and the director of music at the Immaculate Conception Church in Secaucus, and her son, Joseph Maccaro-Cilento, after a precarious riptide threatened to drown them in Ocean City last August.

Maccaro, a den mother for Cub Scout Post 87, paid tribute to Worthington during the Post’s Blue and Gold Brunch.

Maccaro said she took her children to Ocean City for a vacation, and after purchasing a boogie board – a Styrofoam bodysurf board – for her younger son, Joseph, decided to allow the boy to try it out.

Maccaro said she had heard reports of riptides on the local media last summer. Local newspapers reported numerous drownings in the area over the summer of 2000 including a man and child from Pennsylvania over the Fourth of July weekend. But she didn’t realize the danger she might be in.

A riptide is a treacherous, unexpected current that suddenly pulls a swimmer out to sea within seconds. These tides change from year to year, depending on numerous factors. On some beaches, these tides travel in circular patterns beneath the surface, catching swimmers and driving them with remarkable speed in a direction they do not expect. Even shallow water is not always safe.

There are no warning signs, nothing on the surface to suggest how deadly the current is. The first reaction is to panic, and generally only experienced swimmers know how to get back.

Maccaro said the lifeguards in Ocean Beach left at 5 p.m. and told people via megaphone that the beach was closing. “No one seemed to pay attention to them or come out of the water,” she said. “At the time, the boys and I were on the water’s edge in water below our knees. There were easily 50 people in the water with another hundred or so on the beach.”

Yanked by a wave

Maccaro thought she and her sons were safe. When a wave broke, both boys rode it into shore. But the riptide caught the younger boy and yanked him back out into deeper water.

“He was about 10 feet away from and parallel to a big rock jetty,” Maccaro said. “Another huge wave crashed over him, and he managed to ride that in a little, only to be sucked out ever further. At this point, Joseph began to scream for help.”

Without thinking, Maccaro jumped in to rescue her son, only to find that when she reached him, the riptide had caught her, too, and both began to scream for help.

People watched from shore as wave after wave crashed over the mother and child in the water.

“We were thrown under, tossed around and it seemed as soon as we surfaced to try to gulp some air, another wave came crashing down,” she said.

Ironically, the boogie board kept her son afloat, but the waves continued their assault. Maccaro said she prayed. Maccaro’s older boy, Anthony, tried to bring his own boogie board out to them. But Maccaro told him to seek help.

Anthony found the Worthington Family, who had come to Ocean City from Philadelphia for the day.

Worthington grabbed the boy’s boogie board and paddled out towards the stranded swimmers, when a wave hit and ripped the board out from under him.

Expert swimmers advise people to swim parallel to the shore to ride out riptides. Worthington, who had learned his water skills as a cub and Boy Scout, helped the two swimmers get to the stone jetty – although the waves continued to toss them about.

“I remember the feeling of relief I had when I reached the jetty,” Maccaro said. Even though waves continue to crash over her, she finally had something to which she could cling. She was later treated for minor cuts and abrasions from contact with the rocks.

Worthington also rescued another woman caught in the riptide nearby. Eventually, mother and son were transported to the local hospital for treatment.

“Jeannie told me later that when Gregory walked back to her after we went off in the ambulance, he said he was glad he had been a scout, because if he hadn’t been a scout, he wouldn’t have learned the skills he needed to save us,” Maccaro said. Among those honoring Worthington for his heroics was Mayor Dennis Elwell, who read a proclamation of gratitude. Maccaro said she learned to appreciate the benefits of scouting and learned to heed warnings about the riptide and water safety.

“Water safety rules are very important and there is a reason for never swimming without a life guard,” she said. “God was looking over us that day.”


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group