In the Company of Heroes

In the Company of Heroes

Medal of Honor Society Gives Highest Award

 by Woody Jenkins, Editor

WASHINGTON — Jesse Shaffer III, his son Jesse IV, and members of their family are just back from Washington where the two Jesses received one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.

On Aug. 29, 2012, with the help of a handful of friends and relatives, they saved 120 of their neighbors in Braithwaite, during Hurricane Isaac.

Jesse Shaffer III, 54, a native of Central and 1976 graduate of Central High, said the trip to Washington was a memorable and inspirational experience.

Congress founded the Congressional Medal of Honor Society to recognize those servicemen who have earned the nation’s highest military honor for heroism.  The members of the Society, including the 80 living Congressional Medal of Honor winners, created an award for civilians who have performed similar acts of heroism.

The Shaffers were two of the four Americans who received the honor during Medal of Honor Day last Monday in Washington.

During Hurricane Isaac last August, Jesse III and Jesse IV stayed behind to guard their home, as did many residents of Braithwaite.   The community is located in what can be described as a soup bowl.  It is protected by levees but if high waters top the levees, the entire community can be inundated.

During the early morning hours of Aug. 29, 2012, that’s exactly what happened.  As the Shaffers’ home was going under water, Jesse III and Jesse IV realized their neighbors would be in great danger.  So, despite darkness, high winds, and driving rain, they began a rescue operation to save their neighbors, as the water rose by 18 to 20 feet.

Joined by two or three other friends and family, they went from house to house in a small boat, puling people off rooftops, breaking through roofs to rescue people in attics, and pulling people out of the water.  They made trip after trip, taking people from near death to the safety of the levees.  By 7 p.m., they had rescued 120 people — an unprecedented rescue of human life in the face of great danger to themselves.

The Shaffers were flown to Washington on Friday and attended a heavy schedule of events, culminating in the award ceremonies on Monday and the laying of a wreath at Arlington cemetery.

Jesse III’s wife Suzanne described the events this way:

“We arrived Friday night and had a briefing on what to expect.  On Saturday morning, we toured Capitol Hill.  At noon, we had lunch with the 26 living Medal of Honor winners who were able to attend.  As each one entered the room, he was introduced and we were told a little of their story.  On Friday, the Medal of Honor winners had been at the New York Stock Exchange where they rang the closing bell.”

“On Saturday night, we had a private dinner with the Medal of Honor winners, and some of them told us more about their experiences.  On Sunday, we joined together again for a cruise and private dinner on the Odyssey.”

“On Monday, we had the award ceremony and lunch at the Women in Military Service Museum.  After lunch, we had the wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.  Monday night, the trip ended with a wonderful dinner at the Library of Congress.”

“One of the most amazing things was meeting the young man, Marcos Ugarte, who was also honored for saving an autistic child, and Fr. Joe Carroll, who helps rehabilitate the homeless.”

“But, most of all, it was meeting the men who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.  They treated us as though they had know us forever.  They made us feel so special.  Just to be in the same room with them was such an honor.  On Monday night at the Library of Congress, each  man stood and told his story.   They were so humble.”

Jesse IV said he will never forget the luncheon on Saturday when the Medal of Honor recipients entered the room one by one and he saw photos of when each of them was in the service.

“We went there to represent all of those who helped that day in Braithwaite.  It wasn’t just us!” he said.

Jesse III, who grew up on Greenwell Springs Road near Beaver Bayou, said, “The most remarkable thing was to meet the 26 Medal of Honor winners.  I told my wife that these are some of the bravest men ever to live on this earth.  They were so humble and down to earth.  I especially enjoyed Col. Bruce Crandell who served in Vietnam and Hershel Williams, who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  He’s 90 and in very good shape.  It was amazing to try to take it all in.”

Suzanne said, “During the entire weekend, I just sat back and watched what unfolded with a smile on my face.  To have my son and husband honored with this magnitude of men, to have these men honor my son and husband!  A simple thank you would have been wonderful, but all of this was truly amazing.”

Now Baton Rouge and Central have some new heroes — two men who risked everything to save their friends and neighbors and whose courage should be long remembered.

Suzanne can be reached at

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!