Marlin Coats did not know the young brothers whose lives he saved before losing his own in the chilly waters of Ocean Beach last year. But U.S. Coast Guard officials want to make sure Coats and his heroic act are remembered far into the future.
In a formal ceremony on Yerba Buena Island on Thursday, Coats was honored for “extreme and heroic daring.”
But even as his widow accepted the Gold Lifesaving Medal — the Coast Guard’s top civilian honor — her status in the U.S. remains in limbo.
Coats was a newlywed on a Mother’s Day outing with his extended family on May 14, 2006, when he dove into the choppy sea after hearing the screams of two boys, 11 and 14.
The former lifeguard fought against the current to keep the younger boy above water until help arrived. The child’s older brother swam to shore.
Both brothers were unharmed, but rescuers found Coats unconscious. He died a short time later at a local hospital.
On Thursday morning, his widow, Jacqueline Coats, and his parents, Camille and Robert Coats, accepted the medal in his honor from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“When Marlin heard the cries of the boys, who were strangers, he responded as if they were his own brothers’ cries, because they were part of the larger brotherhood of humanity,” Pelosi said.
Jacqueline Coats, who accepted the award, wept as she thanked family members for their support.
“We are all so proud of him,” she said of her late husband. “Marlin, we miss you a lot and you will always be in our hearts.”
Jacqueline Coats’ grief was compounded when she learned just after her husband’s death that she could be deported to her native Kenya.
She came to the Bay Area on a student visa in 2001, but her visa lapsed two years later. The couple married a month before Marlin’s death and Jacqueline’s petition for legal residency had not yet been filed.
On Thursday, Jacqueline said her deportation is on hold thanks to a private bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that seeks to give her permanent residency.
However, until the bill passes, her future remains uncertain.