Former Staff Sgt. Mike Maroney spent his entire career saving the lives of strangers – but now he’s asking for America’s help in completing one final mission.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Maroney was there as a para-rescuer – descending from helicopters onto the rooftops of flooded homes and hoisting entire families to safety.
One of those lucky families had a little girl with them, and after being stranded on the roof of her former home for over a week, she leapt into Maroney’s arms with a heartwarming smile that, for a moment, helped the airman find peace in a seemingly hopeless disaster.
“It had been such a rough week, when she wrapped me up in that hug, I was in la-la land,” Maroney said, according to the Washington Post. “Nothing else existed. I was just loving that hug.”
The moment was immortalized by a military photographer named Veronica Pierce, who snapped the shot after Maroney’s chopper had landed at the New Orleans International Airport, delivering the little girl and her family to safety.
Soon, the image went viral.
“It was everywhere, on Burger King placemats and AT&T phone cards,” Maroney told the Air Force Times, who first broke the story. “A foundation for fallen rescue airmen – That Others May Live Foundation – used it on their brochures.”
But like so many others whom Maroney lifted to safety during those trying weeks, he never caught the girl’s name – or the names of her parents and their other four children.
Maroney retired from active duty a year after the storm in August 2006. He continued serving in the Air Force Reserve – rising to the rank of Master Sgt. – and later went on to fight in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he never forgot about that little girl – maybe 4 or 5 years old at the time – with the pink shirt and pigtails, whose fearless smile inspired him (and many others) to keep hope.
And now, the man who’s given so much, is asking for something in return: our help in finding her.
Maroney’s story has now gone viral, and the Twitter hashtag #FindKatrinaKid has gained thousands of responses.
As for what the Master Sgt. would do if he ever does reconnect with the mystery girl: “I would love to get another hug and see how she’s doing,” he told the Air Force Times.
“I’d love her to know that there isn’t a day I haven’t thought of her.”
If you know the identity of the little girl in the photo, please contact Air Force Times Managing Editor Richard Sandza at email@example.com.