COAST GUARD MEDAL
Title 14 § 493 of the United States Code, which authorizes the Coast Guard Medal, says the decoration is to be awarded to any person serving in Coast Guard who “distinguishes himself by heroism not involving actual conflict with the enemy.” While this is certainly the linchpin of the eligibility requirements for the Coast Guard Medal, it does not paint a complete picture of the type of selfless courage the award is intended to recognize.
For a Coast Guard member to be considered for the medal, the act of heroism must not only be voluntary, but also performed at the risk of personal danger so great that its performance stands far above what would be normally expected. In many ways, this Coast Guard Medal and its eligibility requirements mirror the Soldier’s Medal (Army), Airman’s Medal (Air Force), and Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
The Coast Guard Medal was originally authorized in 1949, but its first recipients were not named until 1958. Boatswain’s Mate Third Class Raymond Johnson and Engineman Third Class Earl Leyda were honored for their efforts to rescue three construction workers trapped in a tunnel under Lake Ontario following an explosion at the Oswego Water Works. Despite the presence of potentially deadly gas and water seepage from the lake, Johnson and Leyda had proceeded around 5,800 feet underground when they discovered the lifeless bodies of the workers. This eventuality brings up another aspect of the Coast Guard Medal: the acts of heroism do not have to result in the saving of a life or lives in order to be considered worthy of the medal.
Coast Guard members who have been awarded the Coast Guard Medal and subsequently retire after twenty years of service are automatically considered for a ten-percent increase in retired pay.