The Gold Lifesaving Medal and Silver Lifesaving Medal are U.S. decorations issued by the United States Coast Guard. The awards were established by Act of Congress, 20 June 1874; later authorized by 14 U.S.C. § 500. These decorations are two of the oldest medals in the United States and were originally established at the Department of Treasury as Lifesaving Medals First and Second Class. The Department of the Treasury initially gave the award, but today the United States Coast Guard awards it through the Department of Homeland Security. They are not classified as military decorations, and may be awarded to any person.
Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals
|Awarded by United States Coast Guard|
|Awarded for||Rescuing, or endeavoring to rescue, any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water.|
|Established||20 June 1874|
|Total awarded||600+ Gold Lifesaving Medals|
1,900+ Silver Lifesaving Medals
Gold Lifesaving Medal ribbon and Silver Lifesaving Medal ribbon
A British Sea Gallantry Medal for saving life was authorized in 1854. Twenty years later in the United States the Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals were first authorized in an Act (18 Stat 125, 43rd Congress) that furthered the United States Life-Saving Service. The Secretary of the Treasury was directed, among other provisions of the act, 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, within the United States, or upon any American vessel.
The Lifesaving Medals have had three designs in their history. The original design in 1874 was "non-portable" and could not be worn by the recipient, but rather displayed much like a trophy. In 1882 the design was changed so that the medal was suspended from a two inch wide ribbon. The ribbon was red for the Gold Lifesaving Medal and light blue for the Silver Lifesaving medal. Finally on 4 August 1949 the medals and ribbons were reduced in size so that they were more proportionate to medals awarded by the U.S. Armed Forces. The ribbons were also redesigned to have multiple colors.
The laws governing the awarding of medal were amended over the years, and is currently awarded by the Coast Guard. The Commandant of the Coast Guard makes the final determination in authorizing the award.
"The Gold Lifesaving Medal or the Silver Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils of the water. The rescue or attempted rescue must either take place in waters within the U.S. or subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or one or the other of the parties must be a citizen of the U.S. or from a vessel or aircraft owned or operated by citizens of the U.S."
The Lifesaving Medal is issued in two grades, being silver and gold. "The Gold Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to an individual who performed a rescue or attempted rescue at the risk of his or her own life, and demonstrates extreme and heroic daring. The Silver Lifesaving Medal may be awarded to an individual who performed a rescue or attempted rescue where the circumstances do not sufficiently distinguish the individual to deserve the medal of gold, but demonstrate such extraordinary effort as to merit recognition. If neither the Gold nor Silver Lifesaving Medal is appropriate, then a Certificate of Valor or an appropriate Coast Guard Public Service Award may be considered."
Until the mid-20th century, the Lifesaving Medal was often bestowed upon members of the military; however in recent times the decoration has become somewhat rare. This is due primarily to the creation of a variety of additional military decorations that supplant the Lifesaving Medal. The United States Navy often issues the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, instead of the Lifesaving Medal, for sea rescues involving risk of life. "Military personnel serving on active duty would normally not be recommended for Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals; however, military personnel may be recommended for a Lifesaving Medal if the act of heroism was performed while the individual was in a leave or liberty status. In all other circumstances, a military award should be considered." The Lifesaving Medal is authorized for wear on U.S. military uniforms.
Since 1874, more than 600 Gold Lifesaving Medals and more than 1,900 Silver Lifesaving Medals have been awarded.
- George Freeth, a swimming instructor and the "Father of Modern Surfing", who rescued seven fishermen off Venice Beach during a winter storm in December of 1908.
- Vice Admiral Harry G. Hamlet, U.S. Coast Guard – While in command of USS Marietta in the Bay of Biscay on 28 April 1919, rescued a crew of 47 persons from the sinking USS James
- Sergeant Marcus Hanna (lighthouse keeper) – Only person to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
- Joshua James, USLSS  – Legendary lifesaver.
- Jonas Johns - Native American who rescued the 14 man crew of the schooner Lily Grace wrecked near Gray's Harbor, Washington in January 1887 and a year later rescued 3 more sailors. Medal awarded on 9 December 1889.
- James Larsin, fisherman and Wisconsin state legislator.
- Ida Lewis, lighthouse keeper and first female recipient.
- Chief Warrant Officer John Allen Midgett Jr., USCG
- Surfman Rasmus Midgett, USLSS
- Captain Henry C. Mustin, USN - Naval aviation pioneer.
- Sheppard Shreaves, for rescuing Henry Breault
- Lenny Skutnik
- Arland D. Williams, Jr.
- Richard Etheridge, Benjamin Bowser, Dorman Pugh, Theodore Meekins, Lewis Wescott, Stanley Wise, and William Irving of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station, for rescue of the crew from the E.S. Newman on 11 October 1896. Awarded gold medals posthumously on 5 March 1996.
- Benjamin Dailey, keeper of the Cape Hatteras Lifeboat Station, led the rescue of the crew of the Ephraim Williams.
- William Babb, for the 1885 rescue of the American schooner A.C. Maxwell
- Coxswain Bernard C. Webber, EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald; SN Richard Livesey; and SN Irving Maske, U.S. Coast Guard, stationed at Coast Guard life boat station Chatham, Massachusetts, for the rescue of 32 crewmen of the T2 tanker SS Pendleton on 18 February 1952. This rescue is depicted in the 2016 movie The Finest Hours.
- Lieutenant Luke Christopher (Posthumously) for the rescue of Seaman John Barrina from the SS Charles G. Black on 5 December 1936. Christopher was stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Cape May. While airlifting Barrina to the hospital, one of the pontoons on the Douglas RD-2 Dolphin named, Adhara caught a stray fishing net and crashed at sea. Christopher survived the initial crash but succumbed to his wounds shortly after. 
- Rear Admiral Lucien Young, veteran of the Spanish–American War.
- Captain Richard L. Burke, USCG, Coast Guard aviation pioneer.
- Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, USN – Organized, led and flew on first flights over the North Pole and South Pole.
- Major General Byron F. Johnson, USMC - Rescued a man from drowning near San Diego in 1929.
- Vice Admiral Charles E. Larkin, USCG
- Mary McCann, an Irish girl who rescued survivors of the PS General Slocum disaster in 1904
- Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN – Commander of the Pacific Fleet during World War II.
- General George S. Patton, USA – Commander of 3rd United States Army.
- Major General Robert L. Spragins.
- Vice Admiral Joseph K. Taussig, Jr., USN.
- Colonel Frank Tompkins, career Army officer and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross.
- Master Henry F. Page, age ten. Rescued another boy in Shenevus, New York on 8 August 1887.
- Miss Marie D. Parsons, age ten. She rescued a man and his seven-year-old daughter on 7 July 1883 in Gardiners Bay off Long Island, New York.
- Floyd William Carlson, Chief Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation, rescued two fishermen marooned on crumbling ice two miles out in Lake Erie in March 1945. This was the first time a helicopter was used for rescue purposes.
- Lucien M. Clemons, 19 June 1876.
- Hubbard M. Celmons, 19 June 1876.
- A.J. Celmons, 19 June 1876.
- J. Schuyler Crosby, 8 June 1877.
- Carl Fosburg, 8 June 1877.
- Philip C. Bleil, New York City Police Department, 4 January 1878.
- Ensign Lucien Young, USN, 12 June 1878.
- Seaman Antoine Williams, USN, 13 March 1879.
- John H. Rapp, 4 March 1882. (Also awarded Silver Medal.)
- Cabin Steward Fuji Hachitaro, USN, 5 November 1889.
- Bobby Brown, NY Yankees player & MLB President, 9 May 1943
- Captain Cameron Kirkconnell, 2008 http://www.spearblog.com/2009/07/14/what-it-feels-like-to-shoot-your-friend-to-save-his-life/
- "14 U.S.C. § 500". law.cornell.edu. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
- "Timeline 1800–1899 (see June 20, 1874)". treasury.gov. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Medals and Awards Manual (PDF). U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard COMDTINST M1650.25D. May 2008. Chapter 4
- "U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Awards and Decorations Branch". hrc.army.mil. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
- "Traditions: 200 Years of History" (PDF). uscg.mil. 1990. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- "Freeth, George". Encyclopedia of Surfing. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
- Cisco, Dan (1999). Hawaiʻi sports : history, facts, and statistics. Honolulu: University of Hawaiì Press. p. 277. ISBN 9780585329666. OCLC 45843018.
- "Captain Joshua James, USLSS". uscg.mil. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- Christley, Jim. "Submarine Hero: TM2 Henry Breault". Undersea Warfare Spring 1999 Vol. 1, No. 3. Chief of Naval Operations Submarine Warfare Division. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- Emily Yoffe (4 August 2002). "Afterward – Page 9 – New York Times". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
In a dusty glass-fronted case on the piano bench, Skutnik keeps the palm-size Carnegie Medal for heroism and the Coast Guard's Gold Lifesaving Medal
- Coastal Guide. "E.S. Newman Rescue". Retrieved 19 August 2013.
- Mary McCann – General Slocum disaster; 1904.
- "Lethal Rescue Mission". www.check-six.com. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
- "Rescue At Coronado Brings Marine Medal - Coronado Eagle and Journal, Volume XIX, Number 41, 14 October 1931". cdnc.ucr.edu. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- "Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz". history.navy.mil. Archived from the original on 29 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
- Spragins, Robert B.; Spragins, Charles E.; Spragins, Stewart V. (1965). "Memorial, Robert L. Spragins". westpointaog.org/. West Point, NY: West Point Association of Graduates.
- ibid. pg. 44.[specify]
- Annual Report of the U.S. Life-Saving Service for the Fiscal Year ending 30 June 1888. pg. 43.
- Gold Lifesaving Medal Awardees of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, Lighthouse Service, Revenue Cutter Service and Coast Guard
- Loubat, Joseph Florimond; Jacquemart, Jules-Ferdinard (1878). The Medallic History of the United States of America, 1776–1876. Vol 1.
- Loubat, Joseph Florimond; Jacquemart, Jules-Ferdinard (1878). The Medallic History of the United States of America, 1776–1876. Vol 2.
- Gold Lifesaving Medal