SAN DIEGO - Sailor Sean Kelley was on leave to go to a friend's wedding in Texas and then traveled to his father's home in Moore, Okla. when the unbelievable happened.
"It still doesn't seem real," Kelley said.
Kelley and Cowpens shipmate Arturo Guerra were locked in a tiny tornado shelter with 12 other people when the storm hit.
"My dad's neighborhood was OK, but a half mile away, all the houses were gone," Kelley said.
Both headed for the destruction to see what they could do.
"Once you see the homes and pictures that were torn out of the houses, that's when it gets emotional," Guerra said.
Both were among the first to arrive at Plaza Towers Elementary School where seven children died from the storm's wrath.
"I have no words to describe it," Guerra said.
Both dug through rubble at the school and nearby houses for survivors.
For their actions, Kelley and Guerra were each awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal in a ceremony on board the ship.
"This exemplifies honor, courage and commitment," said Vice Adm. Thomas Copeman, the commander of Naval Forces Pacific, who made the presentation.
Kelley said, "I'm glad I was able to help in my hometown, but I think there's a million others who if they were in my shoes would have done the same thing."