It is a very rare friendship formed more than a decade after a United States airman rescued a little girl from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
This weekend, Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Maroney drove from his duty station in San Antonio, Texas, to Hancock County to attend Lashay Brown’s junior military ball.
To understand how very special this reunion is, you have to know their story.
Michael Maroney was a pararescue jumper, flying over New Orleans picking up survivors in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he saw a little girl standing in pink way down below.
“And when she smiled at me I was like ‘Whoa!’ Because I was having a horrible day but I mean, she was having a worst day but she was still smiling!” said Maroney.
Then 3-year-old Lashay Brown had been stuck for three days without food or water before Maroney pulled her and family members up to safety.
“When I got her mom up, her mom was scared. Lashay rubs her mom’s back and says it’s OK mom, we’re safe now,” Maroney recalled. “And she wasn’t just talking to her mom she was talking to me.”
Maroney has a long military background, and has battled PTSD. But that one moment with Lashay, Maroney says, changed his life.
And somebody just happened to take a photo of it.
“She wraps me up in this hug and all my pain went away,” he said. “My heart didn’t hurt. My head didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt and it felt good.”
And that good feeling stuck. Maroney said he wanted to know how Lashay and her family fared after he helped rescue them, so he began looking for her. It took nine years, but he found her in Waveland.
They reunited just a month after the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“We met on the TV show ‘The Real,’” Lashay recalled.” I really seen him, and it was true and I started crying.”
Now 14, Lashay has kept in close touch with her rescuer. Maroney drove with his family from San Antonio to accompany Lashay to her junior ROTC ball in Waveland.
Lashay says Maroney’s influence in her life has inspired her to want to join the military.
“He helped me a lot with physical training and stuff; he gives me tips on how to keep running because we do a lot of PT and all that.” Lashay said. “He means a lot to me.
“He’s more like a family member than a friend.”
At the ball, Maroney gave a speech and received a special honor. But his greatest award is the little girl’s hug and friendship that blossomed out of devastation.
“If she needed a heart or a lung I would give that to her. I mean that’s how important her, her hug, her family is to me.”