Hero reunited with Carnegie Medal 30 years after loss in devastating flood

Harold Nickens, Sr., 93, holds the replacement Carnegie Medal he received from his son after the original was lost in the Great Flood of 1993 in the St. Louis area. Nickens’ son, Randy, contacted the Hero Fund for a replacement for Nickens’ birthday.

A son went to extraordinary lengths to reunite his 93-year-old father with the Carnegie Medal he earned 58 years earlier.

Harold Nickens, Sr., was 34 when he saved a 49-year-old woman from being shot. The woman was walking down a dimly lit St. Louis street when a man wearing a stocking over his face and carrying a gun accosted her, grasping her and threatening to shoot her. As she struggled to break away from the assailant, he struck her on the head twice with the gun. Nickens, a machine operator who was 150 feet away, heard the woman scream and he approached. The woman called out a warning that the assailant was armed.

Nickens continued approaching and the man shouted that he would shoot Nickens if he came closer. The woman tried to break away, but the man held her by the neck and struck her on the head with the gun a third time. When Nickens was within 20 feet of them, the man shot twice, missing Nickens. The gunman dropped the woman to the sidewalk and fled. Nickens aided the woman to safety inside a nearby building. The woman recovered.

Nickens’ son Randy Nickens said his dad was always extremely proud of his Carnegie Medal, but it was lost in a flood in 1993.

According to the National Weather Service, the Great Flood of 1993 has been considered the most costly and devastating flood to ravage the U.S. in modern history.

In St. Louis, the Mississippi River was 20 feet above flood stage, cresting at 49.6 feet. St. Charles, Missouri, nearer to where Nickens lived, was underwater for 94 days.

Nickens and his family fled their West Alton, Missouri, home during the flooding and could never return to their home to retrieve their belongings.

“When we left, we thought we would be coming back, but the flooding damaged too much and it wasn’t safe for anyone to come back home,” Randy Nickens said.

St. Charles County Senior Planner Ellie Marr wrote the Hero Fund Commission confirming the later destruction of the Nickens home.

“The Great Flood of 1993 was not only economically devastating to St. Charles County with catastrophic damages to property but it also caused emotional distress with the loss of real and personal property,” she said.

Marr said West Alton was under 10 to 15 feet of water for about three months.

In the letter she confirmed that the county purchased the Nickens home and about 1,300 other homes through Community Development Block Grant Disaster and
Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

“Subsequently Mr. Nickens’ property was purchased and demolished by the county,” Marr said.

Twenty-eight years to the day that the Mississippi River crested in St. Charles, Nickens contacted the Hero Fund.

“I just really want to surprise my dad with a replacement Carnegie Medal,” he said.

The Hero Fund does not replace the Carnegie Medal except in rare cases of documented theft or destruction – a policy which applied in this case thanks to documentation from St. Charles County.

Although it took several months for the Medal to be produced, once he received it Randy Nickens traveled last spring to his father’s home in Florida to deliver the Medal to his dad for his birthday.

“He was just absolutely tickled,” Randy Nickens said. “He never thought he would see it again.”

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