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The United States
Two Highest Awards for Civilian Valor

Gold Lifesaving MedalSilver Lifesaving Medal

The Gold and silver Lifesaving Medals.

Heroic deeds and daring rescues at sea have always been a part of the Coast Guard tradition. But it was not until Congress passed the Life-Saving Act of June 20, 1874 that First and Second Class Medals were established and medals were awarded. The first medal was reserved for rescues of extreme and heroic daring, the second for those slightly less outstanding.

Congress changed these designations in 1882, renaming the First Class medal the Gold Lifesaving Medal, and the Second Class Medal the Silver Lifesaving Medal.

These medals are awarded to people who endanger their own lives while saving or attempting to save another from drowning, a shipwreck or other perils of the water.

The first gold medals were awarded to three brothers who rescued two people from a shipwreck on Lake Erie in 1875. In November of the same year, two men received silver medals after they rescued two people from a shipwreck off the Maine coast.

New York Man Presented with Nations highest Civilian Award for Valor

October 18, 2000
Francis O'Brien, 37, received the Gold Lifesaving Medal  from Admiral James Loy, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for heroic action August 23, 1998, in the rescue of Helen Gurvitch on the Hudson River just north of the Tappen Zee Bridge near Nyack, NY.

O'Brien and his family were aboard the Conservator water taxi when the pontoon vessel began taking on water. Before the vessel capsized, O'Brien calmly and quickly placed life preservers on those in his party. When his mother felt someone at her feet, O'Brien, a certified diver, used his skills to dive for the victim. The dives involved going well below five feet under water, with less than two feet of visibility, to clear the railing of the overturned vessel. On his third attempt, searching through debris, loose webbing and canvas, he located Gurvitch. At great risk to his own life, O'Brien untangled her from the netting, swam with her farther below the surface to clear the railing and brought her to the surface.

You can nominate someone
for a lifesaving medal
if they qualify...

Eligibility Requirements

The Gold Lifesaving Medal or the Silver Lifesaving Medal is awarded by the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water. 

If such rescue is made at the risk of one’s own life, and evidences extreme and heroic daring, the medal is GOLD. 

If such rescue or attempted rescue is not sufficiently distinguished to deserve the medal of gold, but evidences such extraordinary effort as to merit recognition, the medal shall be SILVER. 

The rescue or attempted rescue must either take place in waters within the United States or subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or one or the other parties must be a citizen of the United States or from a vessel or aircraft owned or operated by citizens of the United States.  

If, in the opinion of the Commandant, neither the Gold or Silver Lifesaving Medal is appropriate, then an appropriate Coast Guard Public Service Award will be considered.

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