Louisiana father and son duo given a national award

Louisiana father and son duo given a national award
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POSTED: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 2:00pm

UPDATED: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 2:04pm

Father, Jesse Shaffer III, and son, Jesse Shaffer IV, refused to give up in August of last year as floodwater rose and torrential rain pelted their Louisiana neighborhood of Braithwaite, even though local officials had called off rescue efforts.

The father-and-son team used their boat to rescue 120 people during Hurricane Isaac, according to award organizers, including a family of five that was clinging to the roof of a trailer, just minutes before rising waters covered the entire home. Organizers say, "Their example of courage, sacrifice, selflessness and unwavering commitment in the face of life-threatening weather, was an inspiration to the community of Braithwaite."

Candidates are nominated by police, fire officials, mayors, governors and everyday citizens. Recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for valor in action, pick the winners.

Along with the Shaffers, two other people are set to be honored this year.

Marcos Ugarte was doing his homework when he heard the screams.

Outside, the high school freshman saw flames shooting from a house several doors down. A man ran through the smoke with devastating news: A 7-year-old boy was trapped on the second floor.

Marcos scaled a ladder, broke through a screen, forced open a window and carried the boy to safety.

That was six months ago, less than three weeks into the 14-year-old's freshman year.

It's not how you usually think of a high school student kicking off classes in the fall. And this week, Marcos is having a far-from-average spring break.

He's been tapped to receive a national award in Washington on Monday, picked in part by people who've won the prestigious Medal of Honor.

Awareness of the medal Marcos is set to receive -- the Citizen Service Before Self Honor -- isn't as widespread. But organizers say they hope to turn the spotlight on ordinary Americans to show the acts of courage and self-sacrifice that they say symbolize the country's spirit. They describe the award as "the most prestigious civilian award in America."

Marcos will be the youngest person ever to receive the award, according to his high school, which hailed the news on its website.

Monsignor Joe Carroll ran a transitional housing center to help homeless people get back on their feet in San Diego, helping more than 1,000 people every day. He "has gone above and beyond to improve the lives of the homeless in Southern California, and by example throughout the United States," award organizers said.

The annual awards, which officials from the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation started giving out in 2008, do make a difference, Brandon Wemhoff said.

The 31-year-old won last year for pinning a masked robber to the ground at a Walgreens in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2011.

People are still giving him hugs of thanks.

"If more people cared about other people and they did things that were actually nice without expecting to get anything out of it, things would work out a lot nicer," Wemhoff said. "We'd have a lot less crime and a lot less BS, excuse my language, and more people helping people."

As he prepared to head to Washington to receive the prestigious award, Marcos told The Oregonian newspaper that he'd told only a few of his friends. Some classmates, he said, have resented all the attention he's received.

"They think I've gotten too much fame from it," he told The Oregonian. "I'm not trying to make it into a bigger deal."

In some ways, he's still a typical high school student.

Click here for more information on the Citizen Service Honorees.

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