Daniel Wesley Joins Elite Group of Central Heroes Led by Homer Wise
Before young Daniel Wesley risked his wife to try to save April Beck this past Sunday, four Central men had become well known in their community for remarkable acts of courage that lives.
Here are their stories:
Homer Wise grew up off Joor Road in Central during the Depression. His family was poor and full of heartache. He dropped out of Central High School to help feed his family. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Homer Wise had already joined the Army. Back in Central, everyone knew Homer as dark-haired, handsome, and a fighter.
In mid-1944, Homer took part in the liberation of Italy. With the 36th Infantry Division, he was fighting his way north to Germany.
In Salermo, Italy, Homer was responsible for many heroic deeds, exposing himself repeatedly to enemy fire to rescue comrades and to advance the American position against seemingly impossible odds. As a result, he was awarded the nation’s highest award for bravery, the Congressional Medal of Honor. He remains today the only native of East Baton Rouge Parish to be so honored.
His Presidential citation reads as follows: “Citation: While his platoon was pinned down by enemy small-arms fire from both flanks, he left his position of comparative safety and assisted in carrying one of his men, who had been seriously
wounded and who lay in an exposed position, to a point where he could receive medical attention. The advance of the platoon was resumed but was again stopped by enemy frontal ire. A German officer and two enlisted men, armed with automatic weapons, threatened the right flank.
“Fearlessly exposing himself, he moved to a position from which he killed all three with his submachine gun.
“Returning to his squad, he obtained an M-l rile and several antitank grenades. He then took up a position from which he delivered accurate fire on the enemy holding up the advance.”
“As the battalion moved forward, it was again stopped by enemy frontal and flanking fire. He procured an automatic rifle and, advancing ahead of his men, neutralized an enemy machine gun with his fire.”
“When the flanking fire became more intense, he ran to a nearby tank and, exposing himself on the turret, restored a jammed machine gun to operating efficiency and used it so effectively that the enemy fire from an adjacent ridge was materially reduced, thus permitting the battalion to occupy its objective.”
After the war, Homer Wise is believed to have returned to Central only twice, once to attend his mother’s funeral.
Homer Wise died and is buried in Darien, CT, where a statue in his honor stands in a public park.
On Monday night, Nov. 2, 2009, a 25-year-old Central man decided to “get involved” and do more than just “mind his own business.” As a result, five members of a family are still alive, and the worst tragedy in Central history to that date was averted. Ironically, the man was in just the right place at just the right time to perform a heroic service involving great risk to himself.
At 10 p.m., Brandon Gomez, a Central native and graduate of Central Private School, was driving east on Hooper Road just east of the old Central Middle School. Suddenly, a car swerved rapidly across his path about 300 yards ahead.
Gomez described what happened
this way: “I thought it might be a teenage driver who was acting up. Then I realized the car hadn’t turned into a road or a driveway but into a yard. I could see that it had landed in a pond and was sinking with its lights still on. I pulled as close as I could and parked with my lights shining on the car.”
“The people inside had managed to roll down their window and were screaming for help. The car was filling up with water. I jumped in the pond. It was way over my head. The woman was holding two
toddlers, perhaps two or three years
old. I grabbed both of them through
the window and held them in one
arm as I swam back to shore.”
“The woman was screaming that
she had a baby. I swam back to the
vehicle and she pushed it through to me. It was a newborn and as light as a feather. I swam back to shore with the child. The three children and I were laying on the bank of the pond. By now, the woman and
a man had escaped from the car, which was almost completely underwater, and were on the roof of the vehicle.”
They were completely panicked and said they couldn’t swim, but I was afraid to go back to them because I didn’t think I could haul back an adult in a state of panic, much less two adults. I told them to jump in the water and kick as hard as they could. They did, and they made it to shore.”
By then, a resident of a trailer nearby had heard the commotion “They were completely panicked and said they couldn’t swim, but I was afraid to go back to them be cause I didn’t think I could haul back an adult in a state of panic, much less two adults. I told them to jump in the water and kick as hard as they could. They did, and they made it to shore.”
By then, a resident of a trailer nearby had heard the commotion
and helped them into her home to dry off. It was 48 degrees outside, and the pond water was cold. Everyone had gotten a bad chill. The homeowner called 911, and EMS from the Central Fire Station were soon on the scene. The family was transported to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. By Wednesday, they were in good condition and had all been released. Central firefighters’ underwater dive unit was on the scene Tuesday morning and pulled the vehicle from the water.
A Central Fire official commended Brandon Gomez for his courageous action and said all five members of the family might have perished but for his intervention. “The adults couldn’t swim and might have died trying to save the children,” he said.
In an interview with the Central
City News, Gomez said he reacted
automatically and didn’t stop to weigh his actions. He told his mother, Mary Gomez, “Mama, I felt God was using me to save those people.”
Jesse Shaffer III and IV
On Monday, March 25, 2013, Jesse Shaffer III and his son Jesse IV were honored at Arlington National Cemetery with one of the nation’s highest civilian awards, the Citizen “Service Before Self” Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Jesse III, 54, a native of Central and 1976 graduate of Central High School, and Jesse IV, 26, saved 120 of their neighbors on Aug. 29, 2012, during Hurricane Isaac in Plaquemines Parish.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated much of South Louisiana in 2005, a 26-foot high protective wall
was built to protect residents of St. Bernard Parish. But nearby residents of the community of Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish were just outside the wall’s protection. They had only an eight-foot levee to protect them.
On the evening of Aug. 28, 2012, Hurricane Isaac was pounding Plaquemines and St. Bernard parish es. Plaquemines Parish was under a mandatory evacuation order. The Shaffer family decided to split up. Wife Suzanne and daughter Amanda evacuated, while Jesse III and son Jesse IV stayed at home to try to protect their property. They were within a few feet of the 26-foot high protective wall and felt they could make it to safety if necessary.
The Shaffer’s home had been destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They were afraid of losing everything again. Braithwaite was in a dangerous position — much like a soup bowl.
During the early morning hours of Aug. 29, 2012, the flood waters did top the levee and rushed over Braithewaite, reaching a depth of 18 to 20 feet. By 3:30 a.m. the Shaffer’s home was inundated. Many of their neighbors had also stayed behind, and Jesse III and Jesse IV knew that those neighbors were in peril. Acting on their own and with out help from government, Jesse III and Suzanne’s brother Lanny La- France commandeered a boat and went to search for neighbors. Jesse III wouldn’t let Jesse IV go with him until daylight. Jesse III tried to call neighbors by phone, while Jesse IV stayed in their truck behind the protective wall and sent messages on Facebook by text, trying to find out who was trapped in their homes.
In the surging waters, heavy rain, and high winds with downed power lines all around, Jesse III and Lanny went from house to house, looking for neighbors. After the sun began to provide a little light, they were joined by assistant volunteer fire chief Jimmy Kamm and Jesse IV in a second boat.
The volunteer fire department and the sheriff’s office were unable to enter the area. With each load, the Shaffer’s team brought eight to 10 people to the safety of the St. Bernard side of the 26-foot high floodwall.
People were stranded on rooftops and in attics. In some cases, the team had to break through the roofs to let stranded neighbors out of their attics. Some of those who stayed behind were elderly and suffered from heart problems, diabetes, and other ailments. During one rescue, the boat was full and Jesse IV stayed on the roof top for 90 minutes, waiting for the rescue boat to return for him.
Two parish workers had stayed to work in the pumping station. But the water came too fast, and they couldn’t get to safety. They had been floating on a spare tire for two hours when Jesse III found and rescued them.
In perhaps the most dramatic and moving rescue, Jesse III was looking for a family of five. It consisted of the husband and wife and their three children, all under six and two of them in diapers. Just as daybreak was coming, he heard screams for help. When he arrived, he found the family of five on top of a trailer with the water rising over the top. With the help of the Shaffers, they made it to safety.
The high winds and pelting rain continued all day. By 7 p.m., the Shaffers and their team had rescued more than 120 people — one of the greatest rescue efforts in American history! It was all done by individual citizens working on their own, risking everything to save their neighbors. Jesse III grew up on Greenwell Springs Road near Beaver Bayou and the new Central Thruway. He played football for the Central Wildcats on the 1975 team, which won the District Championship and made it to the state semi-finals. Like his father, Jesse III became a cabinet maker. He married his wife Suzanne, who was from Plaquemines Parish.