Coast Guard awards posthumous Gold Lifesaving Medal

Pacific Southwest Coast Guard News
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Rear Adm. Karl Schultz, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, presented the Gold Lifesaving Medal (posthumously) to the surviving family members of Kyle Hardman in a ceremony in Ukiah, Calif., July 31, 2013.

According to the award citation, Kyle Hardman and Jarvise Shelton were working aboard the towboat Richard A. Baker on the Upper Mississippi River in the vicinity of St. Louis, MO., June 12, 2012, when they heard cries for help.

They spotted a disabled pleasure craft with three adults and two young children aboard, drifting toward their location and in danger of being dragged beneath a fleet of river barges.  Recognizing the danger, the pair launched the tug’s Zodiac work boat.  In the few minutes it took to launch the work boat, the disabled pleasure craft came to rest against the upstream end of a fleet of empty barges, where the family struggled desperately to maintain their balance and prevent their craft from being forced beneath the anchored barges.

As Shelton guided the work boat to within 20 feet of the disabled vessel, Hardman made multiple attempts to throw a rescue line to the terrified family, who were unable to secure the line to their own vessel. As their desperation mounted, one of the passengers held an infant child out to Hardman, but he was just out of reach.  Shelton maneuvered their vessel, working to close the gap between the two boats. But as the work boat advanced, the river currents pushed the work boat’s bow into an adjacent barge, causing it to capsize and ejecting both rescuers.

Shelton managed to pull himself onto the bottom of the capsized Zodiac. Once he reemerged, he spotted Hardman’s body several hundred feet downstream. Using the handheld radio that remained attached to his body, Shelton called for assistance, directing the towboat Miss Shelia to Hardman’s location. Minutes later, the Miss Shelia returned to rescue Shelton. Once safely aboard, Shelton performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his fallen shipmate for several minutes, struggling to revive him. He was unsuccessful.

By this time, Miss Shelia’s crew had positioned the vessel alongside the barge fleet in an effort to render additional assistance. Realizing that he might still save the imperiled family, Shelton turned his attention back to the passengers on the pleasure craft.  Shelton joined other rescuers on the barges in a final attempt to rescue the family. Just as Shelton and the other rescuers lowered a rescue line from the head of the barge, the pleasure craft disappeared beneath the barge. Shelton and the other rescuers managed to pull one man to safety while the crew of the nearby towboat Jackie Sue moved into position to recover the remaining passengers with ring buoys attached to rescue lines.

As a result of their bravery and self-sacrifice, the Coast Guard bestowed Hardman and Shelton with the Gold Lifesaving Medal, a unique award that can be given to both civilians and members of the military. Since 1874, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued the medal less than 700 times, making it one of the rarest medals, awarded and the third oldest medal still being issued by the U.S. military.

The lifesaving medals were first authorized by the 43rd Congress on June 20, 1874. The secretary of the treasury was directed to create “medals of honor”, to be distinguished as “life-saving medals of the first and second class, and bestow them upon any persons who endanger their own lives in saving, or endeavoring to save lives from perils of the sea.”

The lifesaving medal is issued in two grades, silver and gold.  Through the years the lifesaving medals have undergone three design changes however, the lifesaving medals remain unique among U.S. decorations.  They are actually struck from the precious metals, silver or gold.

Shelton was presented with the award on May 24, 2013, at the Great Rivers Museum in Alton, IL.

Rear Admiral Karl Schultz, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, presented the Gold Lifesaving Medal (posthumously) to the surviving family members of Kyle Hardman in a ceremony in Ukiah, Calif., July 31, 2013.  Members of the local Ukiah government were also present for the ceremony. Coast Guard photo

Rear Admiral Karl Schultz, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, presented the Gold Lifesaving Medal (posthumously) to the surviving family members of Kyle Hardman in a ceremony in Ukiah, Calif., July 31, 2013.  Members of the local Ukiah government were also present for the ceremony. Coast Guard photo

 

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