NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A father and son from Louisiana are being honored next week in Washington for helping more than 100 friends and neighbors to safety when a tidal surge from Hurricane Isaac overwhelmed part of the coast.
Jesse Shaffer III and Jesse Shaffer IV decided to ride out the storm at their Braithwaite home even though the Plaquemines Parish town was under a mandatory evacuation. The August storm overwhelmed the area, filling homes and stranding families and pets in attics and on rooftops.
The Shaffers used their boat to rescue people and animals. They will be awarded Monday with the Citizen Service Before Self Honor, given annually to three people by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and Foundation.
'It's a great honor for me and my son, but we're representing a lot of people who did a lot of things that day,' said Jesse Shaffer III, getting choked up with emotion as he recalled rescuing friends and neighbors and then watching them get their own boats to help rescue others. 'The honor's real great. We never expected anything like this, but we're going to accept that for everybody from the Braithwaite community.'
Braithwaite was just recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
'Everybody was just getting back to normalcy, and this came, and it just displaced the whole community, every house, 450 homes and 2,000 people are displaced,' he said. 'Everybody's everywhere, and that's the worst part. Going back knowing that your friends aren't there.'
With their own home flooded, the Shaffer family has had to rent a house in nearby Chalmette while they decide whether to rebuild. Their house has been gutted, but without better levee protection, Shaffer said he's hesitant. He said he's not sure he could afford the higher insurance rates even if he did.
He's also considering raising his home.
This weekend, however, Shaffer said he's going to try to put the stress and worry aside as he and his family visit Washington. He said their itinerary includes a tour of the White House and boat ride on the Potomac River.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu nominated the Shaffers for the award because they showed 'an extraordinary amount of courage, sacrifice and selfless service.'
Shaffer, however, was modest.
'I don't know about a hero,' he said before departing for Washington. 'We just did what we had to do, and anybody would do that if they had the chance. It's a great honor.'
His wife, Suzanne, evacuated before Isaac hit. She said she gets emotional when thinking about what her husband and son did.
'Every time I watch a replay of a news clip, we still cry,' she said. 'Now that they're safe and I realize the tremendous risk they were taking, doing it to save friends and family members, it was well worth it.'
Two other people receiving awards Monday were 15-year-old Marcos Ugarte, of Troutdale, Ore., and the Rev. Joe Carroll, of San Diego, Calif.
Ugarte saved a younger neighbor from a burning home by climbing a ladder, pushing his way through a window and coaxing the boy to safety. Carroll developed and ran a homeless support center now used as a model nationwide. It offers assistance, counseling and job training.