It is never too late to honor an act of heroism. On Aug. 19, 1898, 24-year-old Surfman James Coste dove into the swirling waters off Station 12 on Sullivan’s Island to save the life of 12-year-old Ned Schachte. Other guards followed and pulled Schachte to shore, but Coste drowned in the rough sea.

Coste was a surfman in the U.S. Life Saving Service, which combined with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard honored Coste Saturday with a posthumous Silver Lifesaving Medal at a ceremony on the grounds of the U.S. Coast Guard Historic District on Sullivan’s Island.

The gold and silver lifesaving medals were established by Congress in 1874 to honor those who endanger their life to save others from “the perils of the sea.” The awards were first distributed by the secretary of the Treasury and in 1967 transferred to the secretary of Transportation.

“Ned Schachte grew venturesome and went out far beyond where the surf broke to find himself in water over his head and being carried out to sea,” The Evening Post wrote in a 1898 report. “Instead of following the current ... and swimming to shore (Coste) attempted to swim across and it swept him away.”

From then on Schachte would visit Coste’s gravesite at Magnolia Cemetery every year on Jan. 25, Coste’s birthday. He would say a prayer for him and on one of these trips, his curious grandson, now Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, accompanied him. He asked what a prayer was and his grandfather told him it was like aspirin — something to make Coste feel better. Riley then joined in the tradition and continues to do so today.

“One life saved is more than that life. It’s the potential and legacy that person leaves behind. Imagine Charleston without Mayor Riley,” said Capt. Michael F. White, commander of the Charleston Coast Guard sector, before presenting the award to Coste’s relatives.

But Riley said Coste’s ultimate sacrifice was not something his grandfather often discussed.

“It was a cause of great sadness because this fine man had died,” he said.

Schachte died in 1959 at 75. Riley said he and his grandfather were very close. Schachte was the only grandfather he was able to meet and Riley was his eldest grandson. He described his grandfather as a civic leader who was happy, loved to laugh and who introduced him to baseball.

“He was a dear friend,” Riley said.

And Coste’s legacy lives on in relatives, including his great-nephew, Hal Coste of Sullivan’s Island, who was also a Coast Guardsman. He received the Silver Lifesaving Medal for saving the lives of five people in 1991 off Station 12.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.