The Merriam-Webster definition of “hero” is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities,” and 65 years after his most heroic act, California Highway Patrolman James P. “Jimmy” Haynes is finally receiving the recognition he deserves.
James, who served as Malibu’s California Highway Patrol (CHP) residence officer from 1949-59, received a posthumous Medal of Valor from the CHP at Monday night’s City Council meeting in commemoration of the cold night in 1951 when he dove off the end of the Malibu Pier to rescue a woman attempting suicide.
“This is a long time coming and it’s a very exciting night for your whole family,” Mayor Laura Rosenthal said to Pete and Linda Haynes, James’ son and daughter who accepted the award on his behalf. “I’m really honored and proud that I’m mayor during this time and that I can partake in this.”
Pete still lives in Malibu, and in 2013 he published “1950s Malibu: Growing up in Paradise,” which included an account of the heroic deed.
The story begins with a description of Malibu Pier manager Johnny Radar and his wife Nellie, who lived together in what’s now Malibu Farm Restaurant, formerly Alice’s Restaurant.
“I remember the night dad, Johnny and Johnny’s wife, Nellie, were having dinner at Johnny’s place. Johnny and Nellie began arguing and it really got ugly. Dad had to step in and break them up.
“Nellie became very upset. She yelled at Johnny and dad and then proceeded from the building and onto the pier.”
Nellie then ran to the end of the pier, Pete wrote, and jumped into the water. James and Johnny ran to where she had jumped, and James immediately stripped off his outer clothing and dove in.
“The surf was very large that night and when dad finally grabbed her and was pulling her towards the beach, they were both washed up against pilings. The pilings were covered with barnacles and mussels, which cut them on their arms and legs. When Dad finally got her to the beach, both were exhausted and bleeding.”
Not long after the event, CHP issued James a Citation for Heroism, the details of which differ slightly from Pete’s account — a discrepancy that does not bother Pete.
“Regardless of who it was and what the circumstances were, he still had to dive into the ocean, he still had to save her life, and he still had to go to the hospital and still had to get [a penicillin] shot,” Pete said in a telephone interview with The Malibu Times. “If it’s a little different, it’s the same action. He still saved a human life. There’s no way, shape or form she would have survived.”
A Citation for Heroism was the predecessor to the Medal of Valor.
The official CHP account states that James received the call at home, rather than being there when Nellie jumped in.
“On April 3, 1951, California Highway Patrol Officer James Haynes performed an extraordinary act of heroism, at great risk to his personal safety, when he rescued a woman who attempted suicide in the surf at the Malibu Pier,” the commendation from the City of Malibu reads. “Therefore, be it resolved the City Council of the City of Malibu hereby posthumously recognizes California Highway Patrol Officer James Haynes for his outstanding courage.”
Pete himself earned a Medal of Valor from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1966, which gave him the idea that his dad deserved a similar honor.
“I figure, since I got a medal from the LAPD ... I think maybe my dad could do that,” Pete said. “[CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow] absolutely concurred and agreed that he should have a medal.”
In the end, the medal will serve as a memento for the family of a man who risked his life for another.
“I would really like to have a hardened medal for our family — posthumously, obviously — but just for the family to have,” Pete said.