Ocean Springs cadets hailed as heroes, honored with rare award

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Three JROTC cadets from Ocean Springs High School are being hailed as heroes. Last August, they leaped into action to save a woman who had passed out in her car. On Wednesday, two of the cadets received rare military awards.

Michael Watts and Richard Vermeulen were called to the stage at Ocean Springs High School.   The cadets found out just moments before the ceremony started that they were about to receive something special.

"It's very rare to have this award presented. Very few cadets earn it and it's a privilege for us to present this to two of our cadets," said retired Col. Steven Farragut, Senior Army Instructor at the school.

The Medal of Heroism is the highest award given by the Department of the Army to a high school ROTC cadet.

"I thought it was just another assembly for ROTC and this happened, so I'm pretty stoked about it," said Vermeulen, an Ocean Springs High Junior.

"I'm really excited! I'm going to frame this," Watts told his mom.

The medals recognized the cadets' courage, leadership, and service on August 19, 2011.  The cadets were taking part in a flag ceremony in front of the administration building when they noticed a woman slumped over in her car in the parking lot. The woman was suffering from heat exhaustion and a heart condition.

"They retrieved her from the car, brought her inside the building where she was cooled down, and they did the life saving skills," said Farragut.

"We had to keep her sitting up. She was trying to lay down and we couldn't have that, so we kept her calm," said Watts.

"It felt good, because it made me feel like I just did something for a total stranger and knowing that she could have a family," said Vermeulen.

The cadets knew what to do, because they trained for such emergencies.

"We all worked our part and I don't really consider myself a hero," said Watts. "I'm sure anyone in that case would have helped."

When asked what he thought about being called a hero, Vermeulen smiled and responded: "Pretty awesome."

A third cadet, Jonathan Perez, also helped save the woman that day. Jonathan has moved away, so he'll receive his Medal of Heroism at a later date.

All three cadets have also received special coins from a commander at Keesler Air Force Base.   That's because the woman they helped rescue works at Keesler.

Two years ago, two other cadets at Ocean Springs High School received Medals of Heroism.  One student helped pulled children out of a burning church bus. Another student rescued a driver whose car overturned and landed in a ditch.

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