When bullets began flying in Tucson Saturday, Retired Army Col. Bill Badger said he relied on lessons learned in a 26-year military career that began with the South Dakota National Guard to help him subdue the attacker and survive the chaos.
Badger was among several bystanders who acted quickly to tackle 22-year-old Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter in an incident that claimed six lives and wounded 14 others in the Tucson shopping center. Badger had been waiting in line to talk to the congresswoman when the attack occurred.
By the time Badger realized the firecrackers he thought he heard were gunshots, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a 9-year old girl, and a federal judge had already been shot.
He dropped to the ground but was grazed in the head by a bullet.
"I dropped down all the way to the ground, and I lowered my head about six inches. I felt this burning, stinging sensation right in the back of my head," Badger told the press in Arizona.
When the shooting stopped, a disoriented Badger saw another man hit the gunman over the head with a chair. Before Loughner could reload his Glock 9 mm, Badger and several others wrestled Loughner to the ground.
The 74-year-old got the shooter in a choke hold while another man forced his knee into the suspect's neck.
"The guy's face was in the cement, and every time he would move, I would tighten my grip on his throat and this individual would push harder with his knee and all he (the gunman) said was, ‘Ow, ow, ow, ow,'" Badger said.
After holding Loughner down until police had him in handcuffs, Badger was taken to a hospital and discharged later Saturday. In the moment, Badger said he had not realized the extent of the injury.
"I didn't know the blood was coming from me because I saw all the blood on the sidewalk, the walkway from the store, on him (Loughner) and all over the back of my hand and my arm," Badger said.
Badger's son, Tim of Pierre, said he was attending a peewee hockey game for his son, Landon, in Mitchell when he heard the news.
"Somebody called my daughter, Shelby, at the game," Tim Badger said Tuesday. "She had tears in her eyes, and she pulled the news up on the Internet on her phone and said, ‘Grandpa's been shot and was involved in that.'"
Badger's wife, Sallie, said the couple had been inundated with hundreds of interview requests from media from all over the world. They also received a call from the White House.
"It's been a little overwhelming, but everyone has been respectful and appreciates what he did," Sallie Badger said Tuesday in an interview with the Journal.
Her husband was unavailable for an interview Tuesday.
The heroic action came as no surprise to Bill Bacon, also a retired colonel, who lives in Rapid City and will greet Badger when he arrives Friday.
"He definitely doesn't get rattled. He's a good old South Dakota boy. Real level headed." said Bacon, who joined the Guard with Badger in 1953 while attending high school in Redfield. "I'm real proud of him and the whole state will welcome him home and celebrate what he's done."
Badger lived in Pierre from 1965 to 1973 and has children who live in Pierre and Sioux Falls. He will look for life to slow down a bit at his grandson's peewee hockey tournament this weekend.
"The trip's been planned for a long time now, and I know he'll be ready to get away and come up," Bacon said.
News of Badger's actions spread quickly Tuesday among South Dakota Guardsmen.
"It goes to show you the caliber people we have not only in the National Guard but also in the state," Guard spokesman Maj. Brendan Murphy said. "He just went back to his instinct and obviously this guy was hurting a lot of folks and he helped make it stop. He did a heroic act and it'll live on for a long time."
But Badger said he gives more credit to the people that helped him Saturday than to himself.
"No, I don't consider myself a hero. I did what anybody would do. I think my military background made me react, and the timing was essential," Badger said.
The Arizona Daily Republic and Sioux Falls Argus Leader contributed to this report.
Contact Nick Penzenstadler at 394-8415 or email@example.com