Pamela Smith and George "Radar" Lambert have known each other all their lives. Growing up together in Kotzebue, the two share a special bond.

"The only way that I knew how to show Radar how much I appreciate him is to call him my hero," Smith said, honoring her lifelong friend outside of the Atwood Building in Anchorage on Saturday.

Lambert received the Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medal. He used a life vest to save Smith from drowning on June 22, 1998 after she got caught in a current.

"It just happened, you know, so quick and, you know, no time to think," Lambert said. "I just ran to the boat, grabbed jacket, didn't even think about it, put it on and jumped in that water and went and got my friend and made it back ashore."

Lambert was only 10 at the time; Smith was 12.

"We were in real danger. That current was strong and the water was cold," Smith said. "No matter how good of a swimmer you are, the water can be a bigger danger."

The ceremony capped off a three-year effort by the Coast Guard to honor Lambert.

"I was talking to our boating safety specialist about what a great story it is and we looked back and the Coast Guard had never properly recognized Radar for this event," said Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Dale.

Governor Mike Dunleavy joined the guests for the ceremony, which he said held extra meaning for him. He said Smith and Lambert were students of his at the elementary school he taught at in Kotzebue.

"If he let me go away with that current, then I probably never would have been found," Smith said. "So, I love you, I'll always love you and you'll always be my hero."

Lambert was the first person to save someone with a life jacket from the Kids Don't Float program, which the Coast Guard says has been attributed to saving a total of 31 lives to date.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

MORE NEWS FROM KTVA: