MICHIGAN CITY | Nathan Woessner seemed just like any other first-grader joking with his siblings and jumping out of his seat curious to find out what was in the lobby or another room.
Nathan is no ordinary 6-year-old, though. He survived being buried under 11 feet of sand for almost four hours July 12 at Mount Baldy. On Wednesday, the 139 people involved in Nathan's rescue were recognized by Gov. Mike Pence.
"He's Nathan. Happy, silly, playing around. He's made a full recovery," said his mother, Faith Woessner, after a ceremony with Pence at a jammed-packed Michigan City City Hall.
Nathan along with his parents, Greg and Faith, and siblings, Jake, 13, Olivia, 8, and Marcus, 3, walked behind the governor as Pence slowly made his way to the microphone to give a 10-minute speech.
"Everyone of you is a Hoosier hero and you have our thanks," Pence told the scores of police officers, firefighters and other of people standing behind him who played a role in the rescue.
Pence said the rescuers were like a shepherd in the Bible who loses a sheep but instead going home with what's left of the flock remains until he finds the missing lamb.
"And when he did find it, he joyfully put it on his shoulder and goes home," Pence said. "We gather today to celebrate a community that lived out that principle. To celebrate an act of heroism."
Pence said Nathan might not be alive today had the rescuers not worked as a team and not exhibited bravery, courage and a never-give-up attitude.
"On behalf of all the people of Indiana, I have come to say thanks to all who made the miracle on Mount Baldy happen," said Pence, whose words generated several rounds of loud applause.
Nathan held a teddy bear throughout the governor's presentation and none of the family members spoke during the ceremony. Certificates were handed to each of the rescuers, who shook the hands of Mayor Ron Meer and Pence.
Nathan and his family were enjoying a day at the beach when he fell into a hole hidden beneath the surface.
The dig started with people using their hands and shovels, but sand from the edges kept filling in the hole.
Heavy machinery was brought out by Woodruff and Sons, D & M Excavating and NIPSCO to remove tons of sand. Nathan was discovered when hit by one of the probes being stuck into the sand.
He was barely breathing and wound up spending more than a week at a Chicago hospital.
Pence, speaking as a parent, said the Woessners were able to have the experience of Nathan's first day in the first grade because of the rescuers.
Faith Woessner said Nathan has not exhibited any psychological effects because of the harrowing experience, but he is undergoing counseling as a precaution.
She said all he knows is what she and her husband have shared with him.
"The last thing he remembers is being at the beach playing," Faith Woessner said.
A similar ceremony attended by several hundred people followed at Blue Chip Casino, where the rescuers again were recognized for their life-saving efforts.
"One of my proudest moments of serving in municipal government was the day when the head man in charge of the state of Indiana calls me on my cellphone and tells me how proud he is of the Michigan City community and all that were involved in this endeavor," Meer said.