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Caring & Courage

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Above the Call of Duty

Larry DePrimo, 25 New York City

On the night of Nov. 14, as temperatures in New York City dipped to a frigid 37, NYPD officer Larry DePrimo was patrolling Times Square when he happened upon a man walking the streets in bare feet. As a tourist’s cell phone picture showed the world, he knew just what to do. I saw him coming and I was shocked. The wind was just whipping. I had on my boots and two pairs of socks and my feet were still cold. I asked him, “You don’t have a pair of socks? No shoes?” He said, “No, it’s okay, officer. God bless you and thank you for asking.” So I ran to the Skechers store-I had to run back and get his size, a 12. I told the manager what I was doing; he sold the boots to me for a $25 discount. After I helped him up I was like, “Listen, do you want to get something to eat?” And he said no, he just kept on walking. It was touching because he was so happy when I brought out the shoes. Honestly, I feel undeserving of so much thanks. I just love to help people. That’s why I became a cop.

As Sandy Raged, He Led Neighbors to Safety

Michael McDonnell, 51 Belle Harbor, N.Y.

On Oct. 29, as Superstorm Sandy flooded his block with six-foot surges, Belle Harbor, N.Y., resident Michael McDonnell saw houses set ablaze by a gas explosion. Fashioning a rope bridge, he and lifeguard Dylan Smith, 23, led six people to safety.

McDonnell: Being a surfer and fisherman, I have no fear of the water, but a great respect for it. My landlord’s windows blew out, and water filled up like in Titanic. When the gas line blew, I told my neighbors, “We’re leaving.” I told them to look for ropes and cords so I could make a bridge. As I’m making it, Dylan started paddling across with his surfboard. He took my landlord’s wife, who was very scared. We put her on the surfboard, then went back and took everyone one at a time. I lost everything; but I don’t care, because I’ve got my life. And I love living it.

His Quick Thinking Saved an Autistic Boy

Marcos Ugarte, 15 Troutdale, Ore.

Marcos Ugarte was doing homework Sept. 24 when he heard neighbor Alex Ma screaming, “My son!” Ma’s house was on fire and his son Cody, who is 8 and has autism, had locked himself inside, resisting rescue efforts. Marcos, a freshman footballer, grabbed a ladder and climbed to Cody’s second-floor window. As smoke enveloped him, he coaxed the terrified boy to crawl out. “When I was bringing him down, I thought, ‘You can’t mess up, and it has to be fast, because this kid’s life is in danger,'” recalls Marcos. By the time firefighters arrived, Cody was sitting huddled in blankets with neighbors. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I have not seen another child act the way Marcos did,” says Mark Maunder, battalion chief with the Gresham, Ore., fire department. That day “taught me to be humble,” says Marcos. “I’m just glad God put me in that position so I could shine.”

A Father and Son’s Lifesaving Teamwork

James, 32, and J.D. Bennett, 52 Sanger, Calif.

During two tours in Iraq, Army sergeant James Bennett saved a man wounded by bombs. So when he and his dad, ex-Marine and retired corrections officer J.D., 52, came upon a fiery van on Jan. 28, instinct took over. It was a grim scene: Paul Rosales, 20, and Rosa Lopez, 19, were dead, but their children, Aleena, 10 months, and Paul Messiah, 2, had survived. James dove through a shattered window to pull out Aleena. J.D. used a pocket knife to hack through two sets of car seat straps as his scalp and arms were singed. Seconds after J.D. rescued Paul, the van exploded. Two days later, relatives named the Bennetts the children’s godparents to honor their bravery, says their aunt and guardian Lupita Lopez. “If it wasn’t for them, my niece and nephew wouldn’t be alive,” says Lopez. “They’re angels.” James, a father of three, says he’s “heartbroken” that the parents died, but sees the children frequently—lately he’s been teaching Paul to talk and to count. “I love them,” he says, “like my own.”

She Ran into a Burning Barn to Rescue Horses

Madison Wallraf, 16 Johnsburg, Ill.

“I felt sick thinking how helpless the horses were,” says Madison Wallraf, a lifelong equestrian who spotted plumes of smoke at M&R Overlook Farm on April 11. “I wasn’t going to leave until they were all safe or I was close to death.” She dialed 911, ran from her stepdad’s SUV and called out to Shannon Weitzman, 21, a caretaker who was on horseback in the barn. Together with stepdad Gerry Karlen, 61, they led the panicked animals out through falling ash and cinders, saving 22 of 40 horses. When it was over, “the only thing I had was my horse, car, dog and the clothes on my back,” says Weitzman, who lived in the barn’s apartment. “But I don’t take anything for granted.” Adds a still-shaken Madison: “Being with Red [her American quarter horse] is helping me overcome this. That’s the best medicine.”