Lance Cpl. Andrew Godowns of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources vividly remembers the December night he rescued a man in an overturned boat from breakers off Hilton Head Island.
"I'll be honest," he said. "It was one of the most scary incidents of my career so far."
That rescue, along with his other work, earned him the Rotary Club of Beaufort's Col. Jesse L. Altman Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, which is given to one local law enforcement officer each year.
"Godowns was cited for his dedication and willingness to put others before him by risking his own safety to rescue a boater in the dark of night," the club said in a statement.
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When Godowns, 30, received the distress call, he left his wife, who was nine months pregnant, launched a 25-foot Sea Vee into a storm with heavy seas and headed to Bay Point.
The Coast Guard couldn't get to the boat, so Godowns maneuvered the breakers despite 5- to 6-foot waves. He approached the boat, which was floating on its side, four times before he could grab the man and pull him to safety. The man had lashed himself to his mast and was wearing two life jackets, Godowns said.
"Officer Godowns is a leader amongst his peers," wrote DNR 1st Sgt. Robbie Smith in his nomination letter. "He is dedicated to protecting the resources of our county. He is a true game warden. His focus is not to lay the strong arm of the law down on the public, but to focus on true violators."
For Godowns, who was the S.C. DNR wildlife officer of the year in 2010, the Rotary award is special since serving the Beaufort community runs in his family.
His father, Asa Godowns, helped launch Beaufort County's EMS program and was the deputy director of EMS and the deputy county coroner when he was killed in a car accident in 2001. His mother retired from Beaufort Memorial Hospital, and his wife, Katie, worked for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and now works for Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department.
"This one was the icing on the cake, being from Beaufort," he said. "I don't know that it means more, but it means as much, being recognized by people in your hometown."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.