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Woman reunites with Coast Guard rescuer 44 years after nearly drowning

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OAK ISLAND, NC (WWAY) -- In honor of Coast Guard Day, a reunion decades in the making at Coast Guard Station Oak Island.

A Coast Guardsman who saved a girl from drowning more than four decades ago reunited with her today.

"I was just a bitty girl," Cindi Vance said.

Vance was 12 years old when she and her brother got caught in a rip current on Oak Island beaches.

"Tthe currents were so swift they just took me out," Vance said.

Petty Officer 1st Class David O'Neal says he was riding around checking the beaches that day. He managed to get Vance out of the water, but called Petty Officer Ronald Savage for back up.

"I said, 'You take her on up. I'm going to look for the boy,'" O'Neal remembered today.

Her brother did not survive.

"Not a good feeling," O'Neal said. "A man lost his son that day."

It created a difficult situation with her family. For this reason Vance had a hard time getting much information about what happened that day. For the next 44 years she searched for the two men through letters and phone calls.

"I was looking for the wrong things," she said. "I was looking for the wrong people."

Finally after reaching out to a geneologist, Vance found her guys.

Savage died in a car accident a few years ago, but his son came in his honor today.

Today Vance was finally able to say thank you to O'Neal, but O'Neal says he is no hero.

"Doin' what I done," he said, "we were doing our job."

Vance says she plans on keeping in contact with O'Neal and Savage's family for the rest of their lives.

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