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Jewish World Review April 11, 2000 / 6 Nissan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports



Men who saved Elián from the sea -- LOST IN THE MESSY CUSTODY WAR over Elián González is the pure wonder of his survival.

For two days last November, this 6-year-old boy clung for life to a tire tube in the raging Florida Straits. Through all these hours, watching the sun set and rise twice, he carried with him the horrid image of his mother's last moments, a woman who could not swim drowning before his eyes.

Fortunately for Elián, two men out fishing last Thanksgiving morning spotted the inner tube and its unrecognizable cargo two miles off Fort Lauderdale. "My cousin thought it was a doll," Donato Dalrymple recalled. "I just couldn't get it out of my mind that this wasn't a doll. I thought it was a dead person."

Suddenly, the mystery ended: "I noticed the hand move." After speeding toward the inner tube, Dalrymple's cousin leapt into the turbulent seas. "I give him a lot of credit because he's not a great swimmer, but he dove into those rough waters."

While his cousin held the inner tube and boat together, Dalrymple reached down to grab the boy. "I tried to hold myself without falling into the water, and I plucked little Elián out of the water and into my arms."

Now came the second half of the Elián González miracle. "He was in perfect condition," his savior remembers in awe. "It's incredible. He just looked like pulling a fresh flower out of the water."

At first, Dalrymple found it hard communicating with the boy, whom he immediately figured to be a "rafter," a Cuban trying to find freedom in America.

"The first thing I said was 'Do you speak English?' He looked at me with his eyes wide open."

Dalrymple then asked Elián in Spanish whether he spoke that language.

"Sí," the small boy answered.

"I just held him in my arms like a mother would hold her child. I knew that he had lost his parents. The first thing I did was to try to comfort him. I kissed him and held him and just tried to treat him as if I was his mother."

Six months later, the good-and-bad clarity of that Thanksgiving day has been clouded by the warring passions of those who think young Elián González belongs back in Cuba with his father and those who say this little boy's immaculate survival and wondrous rescue were too improbable to be ignored.

Donato Dalrymple, who has remained close to Elián, supports efforts of his American relatives to keep him here. "It was," he says, "an incredible morning."

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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