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Gen. Milley's wife saved vet who collapsed at Veterans Day ceremony in Arlington

“It really was an honor to help a veteran on Veterans Day,” Hollyanne Milley told NBC News.
Joseph Dunford,Mark Milley,Hollyanne Mille
Outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, participates in a ceremonial swearing in ceremony for his successor Gen. Mark Milley alongside his wife Hollyanne on Sept. 30, 2019, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.Evan Vucci / AP

When a bystander collapsed at the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, a nurse was nearby and rushed to his aid. She happened to be the wife of the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Mark Milley.

Hollyanne Milley told NBC News that just before President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and their spouses arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, she heard a commotion behind her and looked up the stairs toward the museum.

“I just saw legs laying there,” said Milley, a practicing nurse.

Milley ran to see if she could help and found the man unresponsive.

“When I first got there, he was breathing in a very erratic way that he wasn’t really taking air into his lungs as he should have been,” she said. “And then he stopped breathing.”

Hollyanne Milley.
Hollyanne Milley.Courtesy Hollyanne Milley

The man had no pulse. Milley said she directed someone to call 911 and started chest compressions. “I did about two cycles of CPR, and then he just took a big, deep breath and kind of groaned a little bit and then started moving around.”

Milley detected his pulse and within a few minutes he began to respond to her questions.

“I put him in a side recovery position and just talked to him and told him what was going on and encouraged him to take deep breaths,” she said.

Fort Myer Emergency Medical Services arrived and took the victim to a local hospital.

Milley spoke with him the next morning and said he was doing very well. She said the man, a veteran who asked to remain anonymous, has since been discharged.

“He’s grateful that he will be here next year to again honor those who served,” Milley said. “And he said because of a bystander who knew CPR that’s why he’ll be able to continue on honoring our veterans for hopefully many years to come.”

Asked whether she saved the man’s life, Milley said others had also rushed to his aid, including a physician from the VA and the Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman, and that it was a team effort.

“But I do think we were all in the right place at the right time,” she said.

In a statement to NBC News, Gen. Milley said: “Hollyanne’s actions were representative of the hero medical professionals who are always there when we need them. She represents the strength and service of our military families.”

Hollyanne Milley said that saving a man’s life with the president only feet away was in fact not the most unusual situation when she stepped in to help a stranger in a medical crisis. “I went to an Army Ball a few years ago and performed CPR in my ball gown,” she said.

Milley said her husband was the guest speaker that night, so after helping revive the victim, she went back to the dinner and dancing.

“I’ve been a nurse for a long time, for 33 years,” she said, including working in intensive care and emergency rooms. “A lot of the way you respond is just muscle memory for medical professionals and you just take about a second to take everything in and then somebody’s life is depending on the actions of others.”

She encouraged others to take CPR classes. “Bystander intervention can truly save lives,” she said.

“It really was an honor to help a veteran on Veterans Day,” Milley added.