OSWEGO, NY – The U.S. Coast Guard formally recognized Edward Fillingham, 77, on Tuesday for his life-saving efforts in 2009.
Rear Admiral Mike Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, presented Fillingham with the Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal at Coast Guard Station Oswego in recognition of his rescuing three boaters on Lake Ontario on April 17, 2009.
Fillingham, of Henderson Harbor, was 75 when he performed his Herculean rescue.
A woman and two men were floundering in 40-degree water after their paddleboat capsized in Henderson Harbor.
Upon hearing the cries for help, Fillingham said he immediately launched his canoe despite extremely dangerous conditions and paddled 500 yards to the boaters.
“Mr. Fillingham, it’s been an honor to meet you,” Admiral Parks said.
To the men and women of Station Oswego, packed in tight quarters to witness the ceremony with Fillingham’s friends and family, the admiral added, “I you have even just a small portion of the feeling of pride that I have at this event and having had a few minutes to spend with Mr. Fillingham and hearing his story about this wonderful rescue.”
“Three families are whole today because of your efforts, sir,” he continued, turning his attention back to Fillingham.
The guest of honor, however, said he “was surprised so many people and the media are here.”
“Sir, it’s not everyday we get to meet a hero. It’s not everyday we get to thank a hero,” the admiral replied. “I want to thank you personally for the example you set for all of us. You went out and saved three people in very, very challenging conditions.”
“Sir, on behalf of the Coast Guard, we look at you as a shining example of what we all strive to be, a lifesaver and a servant,” the admiral said.
None of the three people were wearing lifejackets, Fillingham noted.
He helped the woman to the side of his canoe, holding on to her hand as she struggled to stay afloat.
Fillingham then helped the men to the side of his canoe and paddled back to shore with one arm as he held one person’s head out of the water and fought to keep his own vessel from capsizing.
At one point, Fillingham said one of the men’s heads began to slip below the surface. He said he stopped and grabbed the man around the neck (in the crux of his elbow) to keep him above the water.
Once on shore, the boaters were turned over to local Emergency Medical Services with core body temperatures of 93 degrees.
“You can’t leave kids out there like that. Once you commit yourself, you go after them. You got to try anyway. No way I could have left them out there. No way. I had to get those kids out of the water,” Fillingham said following the ceremony.