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Anonymous Hero Showed American Spirit

In Washington, D.C., this week, something happened just a few blocks from Congress, where politicians debate and declaim about illegal immigrants.

This week, there were pounding rains up and down the Eastern Seaboard. On Thursday, Bernice Clark was driving along Rhode Island Avenue in Washington with her great-grandson when her car was stopped dead by flooding.

Water surged into the passenger compartment. Her great-grandson, Davonte Williams, pushed open his door and leapt out. But Bernice Clark was stuck in the driver's seat. Her great-grandson tried to fight his way back to pull her out. But, as the water rose higher each second, it pulled Davonte Williams away from the car and put more pressure on the door that his frail, great-grandmother struggled to open.

"When the water was at the steering wheel," Bernice Clark told David Schultz of WAMU in Washington, "I saw all this trash that was coming in with the water, I knew that was it."

Witnesses say that a passerby, who appeared to be Hispanic, saw Davonte Williams straining to reach his great-grandmother. The passerby didn't just make a video with his cellphone and send it out over You Tube. He didn't just call 911 to say, "There's a woman drowning. You ought to get over here." He didn't just post a message to his Facebook friends: "Wow. Woman fighting for her life right in front of me. Lookit this pic!"

The man stripped off his clothes and dove into the cold, grimy, churning waters.

"He came over and jumped into where we were and brought me out," says Bernice Clark. "I was alive. He saved me."

And then, the man went away. He didn't stay around to receive congratulations, or join Bernice Clark and her great-grandson for some hot soup, and receive their tearful thanks for saving their lives.

There may be several reasons why the man did not stay at the scene of the rescue. The likeliest may be that he is an illegal immigrant from Latin America who feared that police would soon show up and ask for proof of his identity. It is not easy — in fact, it's illegal — for a policeman to say these days, "You saved people. Nice work. I'll pretend you weren't here."

As people in Congress debate illegal immigration, they might want to think a bit about this about this unidentified stranger, who may be doing backbreaking work for little money in their own backyards and apartment blocks. This man may seem invisible to many. But when he saw someone in danger and distress, he risked his life to save them. He was a hero. He was a model citizen.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small