With crumpled tissue in her hands and pride in her eyes, Judi Welsh stood inside a banquet room at the Omni Shoreham Hotel last week and accepted an award for her husband, a D.C. police officer who died last year while trying to save a stranger from drowning.

"This is so overwhelming," Welsh said. "I'm absolutely delighted . . . . "

The story of Kevin Welsh's heroic action, which brought some members of the audience to tears, goes like this: In August 1986, Welsh jumped into the Anacostia River to try to save a drowning woman. The river's current pulled Welsh under the water as he swam toward the woman, who was later saved by other officers. Welsh, 34, an eight-year member of the police department's division of Special Operations, drowned.

For his valor in the line of duty, Welsh was posthumously awarded a gold medal -- the highest honor a District police officer, firefighter or corrections officer can earn -- at the 28th annual Meritorious Service Awards luncheon last week.

More than 700 business and community leaders attended the event, which was sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

District firefighter Richard Young also was awarded a gold medal. In October 1986, he stood surrounded by fire and caught a man falling from a tractor-trailer teetering on the edge of the 11th Street Bridge. Nine other District police officers and firefighters were awarded silver medals for similar acts of courage.

City officials and community leaders praised the award winners throughout the ceremony. D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke expressed the city's "deep gratitude for the supreme sacrifices" medal recipients made for the community. Mayor Marion Barry hailed the winners as heroic exceptions in a society that is usually "too busy and too big to care about others."

Police officer Robert Remington, who was fatally wounded in May while trying to stop a Georgetown clothing store burglary, was awarded a silver medal posthumously. Four police officers who assisted Welsh in trying to save the drowning woman -- Dana Dewey, Jerome Fremeau, David Hayes and Steven O'Dell -- also received silver medals.

Silver medals were awarded to four firefighters: acting Lt. Everett Cooper Jr. and William Cave, who rescued an unconscious man who was immobilized when his truck struck an electrical power cable; Edwin Lehan, who rescued a person trapped in a burning house, and Kevin Sloan, who rescued an infant from a burning building.