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Zee O. Lee


Coast Guard Medal

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The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Coast Guard Medal to Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Zee O. Lee, United States Coast Guard, for heroism while participating in aerial flight on Coast Guard HH-65 6588 on the night of 28 February 2004, during the dramatic rescue of a victim from the 570-foot tanker BOW MARINER. The BOW MARINER had caught fire and violently exploded 50 miles east of Chincoteague, Virginia, casting 27 crewmembers into frigid water covered with a lethal combination of ethanol and diesel fuel oil. As the helicopter arrived on scene, the odor of the chemicals was evident from 400 feet. Several victims were located floating in the midst of a fuel oil-ethanol slick. When one survivor was spotted weakly waving his arm, Petty Officer Lee, fully aware of the risks posed by the chemicals, unhesitatingly asked to be lowered to recover the victim. The aircraft commander voiced concerns that the hazards might be too great, and questioned whether Petty Officer Lee to ensure he was willing to assume this grave risk. Petty Officer LEE promptly replied in the affirmative, and was hoisted directly into the slick next to the victim. Fighting to breathe through noxious fumes, and with chemicals burning his skin and eyes, Petty Officer Lee struggled in the 43-degree water to place the now unresponsive victim in the rescue sling. Exhibiting exceptional courage and resolve, Petty Officer Lee persevered for several minutes until at last he and the victim were hoisted into the helicopter. Ignoring the effects of his exposure, Petty Officer Lee immediately began evaluating the victim's condition. With no signs of respiration or pulse evident, and the use of a respirator precluded by the victim's contamination with hazardous chemicals, Petty Officer Lee again disregarded his own safety and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Twice during the 20-minute trip the victim's heart and respiration ceased and were restored through CPR. Upon landing at a local airport the patient was transferred to a waiting ambulance. Petty Officer Lee's courage and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.

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

Action Date: 28-Feb-04

Service: Coast Guard