Photo credit: Airman 1st class Veronica Pierce
An unforgettable hug turned into an irreplaceable bond. In 2005, Master Sergeant Mike Maroney helped rescue then three-year-old LaShay Brown and her family, who, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, had been stranded for days on their rooftop in New Orleans. Upon rescue, LaShay gave Maroney a warm embrace for saving her from the aftermath of the hurricane. The moment was captured in a photo that went on to spread a message of hope worldwide.
For years Maroney searched for the little girl who left such an impact on his life, going as far as posting photos online to locate her and her family. Finally, in 2015, the two were reunited on TV talk show "The Real", where Maroney told LaShay, "You rescued me more than I rescued you."
Photo credit: Erica Parise/ Warner Bros. Televison
Since reuniting, the bond between now 14- year-old LaShay and Maroney has only grown stronger, as they keep in touch with one another on a weekly basis. Maroney has even visited the Brown family in Mississippi and taught LaShay how to swim. LaShay is just as inspired by Maroney, so much so that she decided to join her high school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program and later, plans to pursue a career in the military. This weekend, Maroney, who is set to retire from the Air Force later this month, will make a trip back to Mississippi with his family to escort LaShay to her Junior ROTC ball.
Maroney said of LaShay's invitation to the ball, "I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own."