Connor M. Bystrom, 24, of Holmes Beach, Fla., who was awarded the Carnegie Medal in June 2012, was cited for the same rescue when he was given the U.S. Coast Guard Gold Lifesaving Medal at a ceremony in December of that year in Miami, Fla.
Bystrom’s heroism took place on September 24, 2011, when he and a group of friends were spear fishing in the Gulf of Mexico six miles off the coast of Florida. One of his friends, Charles J. Wickersham, whom Bystrom had known since their days in kindergarten, was in the water about 25 feet from their party’s boat when he was bitten on the thigh by what was thought to be a nine-foot-long bull shark. He struck the shark on its nose with both fists, causing it to release him, but he was left bleeding profusely. Bystrom jumped from the boat, swam through the bloodied waters to Wickersham, and returned him to the boat, where the others pulled him aboard. Wickersham required surgery, including significant suturing, but he recovered and was with Bystrom at the Coast Guard ceremony.
Since the rescue, Bystrom started veterinary training at St. George’s University, Grenada, where he is currently a student. Hero Fund scholarship aid is being given to him to defray the costs of tuition.
First established by an act of Congress in 1874, the Coast Guard medal, given in grades of silver and gold, is one of the oldest in the U.S., with more than 600 gold medals having been awarded in 140 years.