Most of the Cajun Navy wouldn't call themselves heroes.
Many of these south Louisianans who fought floodwaters to rescue their neighbors during August's historic floods shrug off their feats of uncommon valor.
On Sunday thousands came to celebrate their bravery and the indomitable spirit of Louisiana at the Red Stick Together concert for flood relief in downtown Baton Rouge.
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The crowd danced and sang with legendary country performers including Mickey Gilley, Lonestar and Mark Chesnutt, and they honored a few outstanding members what we now call the Cajun Navy, the unorganized collection of volunteers who hopped in their boats and joined law enforcement in rescuing people trapped in their flooded homes.
"It says a lot about our community and the state of Louisiana — how we came together," said Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, who represented his office at the event.
From more than 150 nominations sent to The Advocate, a few were honored Sunday as Heroes of the Cajun Navy. These heroes received a $2,500 check from the Cajun Navy sponsors, which included ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, Hancock Whitney, Manda Fine Meats, Peoples Health, Red River Bank and Acadian Ambulance Service.
Some Heroes of the Cajun Navy — first responders and ordinary citizens who put their lives a…
While he lost everything he had in the flood, James LeBlanc, the volunteer fire chief for St. Amant, worked for weeks in Ascension and Livingston parishes, saving people and pets and capturing and returning two dozen coffins that floated out of cemeteries.
LeBlanc, 48, a safety technician at the Honeywell plant in Geismar, operated an emergency command center in the small Ascension Parish town for 26 days after the flood even after losing the department's fire stations.
"Our hearts are completely shattered, but our faith is strong," LeBlanc said.
Although he didn't own a boat, Marshal "Big Hog" Hoglund set out to rescue his girlfriend's family and ended up saving dozens more.
A longtime volunteer firefighter in his native Mississippi before moving to Central two years ago, Hoglund, 37, found a loose boat on the way to retrieve his girlfriend's grandmother. He tied a rope around his wrist and swam the boat to her house, a five-hour trip.
Hoglund saved the grandmother, her friends and several dogs, swimming the boat for two miles each way. Then he used the boat to help everyone who came in his path. Hoglund and his girlfriend lost everything they owned during the flood.
"If it was my family, I would want someone to help them," said Hoglund, an accounts manager for an industrial cleaning service. "If volunteers didn't volunteer, who would?"
Others were far from the flooding, but could not sit at home and watch the disaster unfold on television.
At home in Brusly, Jere Delaune couldn't ignore the people across the Mississippi River in need. Delaune, 44, drove his saltwater fishing boat to Central and helped an estimated 200 people plus their pets to dry land.
The automotive body shop owner worked for three days in the flooded areas, even evacuating a nursing home near Millerville Road in Baton Rouge.
He said one of the women on his boat asked, "Why are you helping? Do you have relatives here?"
"All these people here," he told her, "They're humans. They're all my family."
Fifty miles away, in Breaux Bridge, Emileigh Searcy saw pleas for help coming across Facebook. The 31-year-old nurse recruited her fiance, Joey Bernard, to help because he could "maneuver a boat unlike anyone else."
They worked in Denham Springs the first of three days, and on their way home they came upon a Pointe Coupee sheriff's deputy clinging to a tree after he was thrown from his boat. Bernard worked with the National Guard to rescue the deputy, who had broken his arm, Searcy said.
"God put us where we needed to be," said Bernard, a 39-year-old self-employed construction worker.
Together, Bernard and Searcy received a $2,500 check.
For the deputies of the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, the flood was "one long day," said Sheriff Jason Ard.
"We did not lay down to sleep," said Ard, 44.
They performed more than 20,000 rescues, according to the Lori Steel, spokeswoman for the office, even as many deputies lost their own homes. Ard said throughout the weekend, deputies would check in with their families and learn their homes had been flooded. Their comrades would pat them on the back and then they would all return to work.
The check that Ard received Sunday will go to an employee fund to help those recovering from the flood.
While they hope a similar disaster never strikes, Ard knows his deputies can handle it.
"We've been through a lot together," he said. "We know what it takes."