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Evan Coppens


Coast Guard Medal

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The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Coast Guard Medal to Seaman Apprentice Evan Coppens, United States Coast Guard, for heroism on the afternoon of 27 March 2002 during the rescue of a man attempting suicide by drowning in the freezing waters of the Illinois River. While pushing a crane barge to service buoys in the river just north of Peoria, Illinois, crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter SANGAMON spotted a man in the water in obvious trouble. As the cutter maneuvered to rescue him, a towboat with fifteen barges swiftly approached from upstream, unable to stop in the 44-knot river current, posing a great risk of collision with the SANGAMON and certain death for the person in the water. The man did not respond to shouts and verbal commands from the crew and he could not grasp a life ring thrown to him. He did manage to grab the end of a long pole but the swift current quickly turned him face down in the river. Recognizing the gravity and immediacy of the situation, with no time to don cold water protective clothing and survival equipment, Seaman Apprentice Coppens took immediate and decisive action. Displaying heroic daring at the risk to his own life, he dove into the river and fought the heavy current to swim out to the man, turn him face up out of the water and drag him back to the cutter's barge. While the crew struggled to recover the man from the water, Seaman Apprentice Coppens lost his grip and was pulled under the SANGAMON's barge, pummeled against the bottom and swept under water another 50 feet down river before surfacing. A small boat from the cutter picked up Seaman Apprentice Coppens, who was suffering from a concussion and the onset of hypothermia from exposure, to the freezing water. Seaman Apprentice Coppens demonstrated remarkable initiative, exceptional fortitude, and daring in spite of imminent personal danger. His courage and devotion to duty are most heartily commended and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.

General Orders: U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office

Action Date: 27-Mar-02

Service: Coast Guard

Rank: Seaman Apprentice