Duluth lifesaver's gold medal disappears in theftPaul Halverson was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other military honors, for his bravery while serving two tours in Vietnam from 1966-69, but a peacetime gold medal recently stolen from his Hunters Park home is the precious medal and metal that means the most to him.
Paul Halverson was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other military honors, for his bravery while serving two tours in Vietnam from 1966-69, but a peacetime gold medal recently stolen from his Hunters Park home is the precious medal and metal that means the most to him.
In 1975, Halverson was awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving medal for diving 40 feet from the ore carrier William P. Snyder Jr. into the frigid waters of Lake St. Clair, near Detroit, to rescue a young woman who survived a small plane crash and was floating unconscious among the debris.
At the time, Halverson was a wheelsman on the ore boat working for Cleveland Cliffs. The medal he received was circular, adorned with an eagle and made from 24-karat yellow gold.
A man who rented a room in Halverson’s house is accused of stealing the medal, three firearms and other household property valued at more than $35,000. Nathan Thomas Ostrom, 35, of Duluth sold Halverson’s medal at the Gold Guys in the Miller Hill Mall for $1,950, according to the criminal complaint charging him with three counts of felony theft.
“The reason that medal was so important to me is that all the other medals I received up to that point were for killing people, or almost getting killed,” Halverson, 65, said. “That one was for not taking a life, but saving one and almost losing mine in the process.”
Here’s how the citation accompanying Halverson’s medal describes his act of heroism:
“Observing that the victim did not respond to a ring buoy thrown in her direction and appeared lifeless as she sank beneath the surface of the water, Mr. Halverson immediately secured a line and dived 40 feet into the turbulent water to assist the victim. Although hampered by difficulty in breathing, he courageously swam through the debris-filled and chilly 52-degree water to the survivor, reaching her just as she was submerging again. Feeling the debilitating effect of his immersion in the cold water and unable to speak, Mr. Halverson supported the victim, swam with her to a buoy thrown from his ship, and clung there until arrival of a Coast Guard boat to assist in the rescue.”
Michele Smith, in her early 20s, was the lone survivor of four people in the plane crash. Halverson said she suffered a broken back. He had some contact with her initially, but hasn’t heard from her in many years.
He said Smith was from the Detroit area and Detroit had a “Paul Halverson Day,” when he received the key to the city. He also received a presidential commendation and letter from President Gerald Ford.
Halverson, who is retired and whose wife died in 2005, doesn’t understand how the Gold Guys could have accepted his stolen medal from Ostrom.
“It had my name engraved on the back of it, 'Paul D. Halverson,'" he said. “The first thing they should have done is question him as to why he had it. To take it and melt it down like that really ticked me off without asking questions or looking in the phone book for my name.”
Joe Saylor, an employee of the Gold Guys, told the News Tribune that Ostrom said he found the medal inside the wall of a house.
“We get people in here who make their story seem pretty legit,” Saylor said. “I don’t have the authority to question them.”
Saylor was asked if any attempt was made to contact Halverson. He said there wasn’t.
Asked if he thought there should have been, he said, “I don’t know. I’d be happy to talk to him.”
Saylor said he didn’t know what became of the medal. Halverson said he was told by police that when the medal was sold to the Gold Guys it probably was soon melted down.
Duluth police Chief Gordon Ramsay and police property crimes Investigator Jeanine Pauly each are writing letters to the Coast Guard in an attempt to have Halverson’s medal replaced.
Ostrom also is accused of stealing a 24-karat white gold ring with a blue star sapphire stone that Halverson purchased when he was in Vietnam, a Mauser 30-06 rifle with scope, and two shotguns; as well as an air nail gun, leaf blower and video camcorder that he allegedly pawned at Pawn America and Lincoln Park Pawn, according to the complaint. Police have recovered the firearms.
Halverson said he rented the room to Ostrom in late September or early October. He said he lent the tenant $1,200 on one occasion and $600 on another when Ostrom said he needed money for electrical work and because he said his son had pneumonia.
“He never paid a dime in rent money; he always had an excuse,” Halverson said. “He was nothing more than a con man.”
Ostrom is free on supervised release. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 27.