ATLANTIC CITY — Godly, heroic, selfless, strong.
Atlantic City officials kept the gratitude and compliments flowing Wednesday night as they honored Lou Rosso for keeping two children afloat in the ocean off Michigan Avenue at dusk on the Fourth of July until lifeguards, firefighters and a police officer pulled them out of the waves.
But the 70-year-old resident of the Cardiff section of Egg Harbor Township said he simply reacted to a 10-year-old girl’s call for help.
“I don’t know how he did that, how he held up those kids for 10 minutes with no flotation device,” Atlantic City Fire Department Chief Dennis Brooks said. “Then I saw in the newspaper that he was an Army paratrooper and it made sense.”
It also wasn’t the first time Rosso’s instincts led him to help a stranger in distress.
Before council started its meeting Wednesday, his wife Julie recalled the day six years ago the couple and their son Ronnie, 47, also of Egg Harbor Township, came across a car overturned on the side of the road.
The driver was trapped and -- for whatever reason -- others who had stopped ahead of the family weren’t doing anything, despite the heat and strong smell of gas that caused Rosso to worry the car might catch fire. Working together, father and son freed the driver.
Bystanders behaved similarly last weekend, according to Rosso, who said he dashed through a beach that seemed full of people who could see the children in trouble, yet did nothing.
“Sometimes it seems like people are programmed to wait to do something until the authorities tell them to,” Rosso said. “But sometimes you can’t wait.”
It’s a good thing he didn’t. During the 10 minutes he kept everyone above water, the girl sank below the surface three times and had to be pulled back up by Rosso, who runs Black Horse Auto Sales on Route 40 in the township’s West Atlantic City area.
The 1959 Atlantic City High School graduate said he didn’t get a chance to speak to the children before they were gone from the hospital and doesn’t know how to reach them – or their names.
Rosso said their thanks “isn’t necessary” for him. But thanking elected officials for their accolades and the first responders for helping him were at the forefront of his mind when, flanked by Brooks and Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise, Rosso accepted a plaque and invitation to ride in the parade preceding the Atlantic City Air Show next month.
“It’s been a long week for me, a very emotional week,” Rosso said tearfully.
Rosso, who stays active by walking, gardening and landscaping, said he was losing energy quickly when he was rescued by off-duty lifeguards Mike Flanagan, Tyler Rau and Nick Grantham.
City police officer Darrell Catanio also responded, along with firefighters Dan Morgan and John Bolero in the department’s water rescue, Brooks and Deputy Police Chief Ernest Jubilee said.
“You’re a hero,” Councilman Mo Delgado said of Rosso. “We appreciate someone with a legacy in the city cared so much for someone else — we don’t often see that happening, unfortunately.”
Rescuers pulled Rosso and the children onto shore blocks his childhood home on Texas Avenue in the Ducktown section of the city.
“It’s so often people go unnoticed for godly deeds. This is truly a godly deed,” Councilman Frank Gilliam said. “People say they don’t know how you kept those children afloat, I think it’s the strength of your character. When I’m 70 years old, I hope to have the strength you have.”
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