Axel Jack Hagstrom was born in Iron Mountain, Michigan and enlisted into the Coast Guard in October of 1946. He served as an enlisted man during the Korean War, entering the Coast Guard Officer Candidate School (OCS) in 1956. Once completed, he was served a commission as a Lieutenant Junior Grade (O-2) where shortly thereafter he saw extensive duty in Vietnam. As a result of service in Vietnam, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with combat “V” device for his actions during Operation Market Time, an effort to stop the influx of Viet Cong supplies into South Vietnam.
The Legion of Merit that he received read in part:
“From the Secretary of the Navy: The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the LEGION OF MERIT to: Lieutenant Commander Alex J. Hagstrom, United States Coast Guard. CITATION:
For exceptionally meritorious service from 30 June 196 to 31 March 1966 while serving with U.S. Coast Guard Squadron ONE during its development and, later, while engaged in armed conflict against communist insurgent forces in the Republic of Vietnam. As Squadron Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hagstrom developed combat operating procedures which formed the basis for tactical operation of Squadron Cutters in the Coastal Surveillance Force. The thoroughness of the training program instituted b him enabled the cutters to undertake their operational mission immediately upon arrival in Vietnam. As Commander, Coast Guard Division ELEVEN, he achieved an outstanding operational record of endurance and accomplishment with the units under his command. While acting as Commander Task Unit ONE HUNDRED FIFTEEEN POINT ONE POINT NINE, Lieutenant Commander Hagstrom successfully directed his forces and coordinated those of other commands in preventing the capture of two U.S. Navy survivors, weapons and classified material of a mined PCF. As Commander Coast Guard Division THIRTEEN and Task Group ONE HUNDRED FIFTEEN POINT SIX, he deployed Coast Guard cutters and Navy PCF’s in the rivers of the Rung Sat Special Zone, south of Saigon. Within two weeks, these forces sank or captured six Viet Cong junks, killed twenty-seven enemy personnel and captured seven others along with arms, ammunition and other contraband. Lieutenant Commander Hagstrom’s exemplary leadership, devotion to duty and professionalism during this period were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
The Combat Distinguishing Device is authorized.
For the President. Paul Nitze. Secretary of the Navy.”
In the years leading to his retirement, he would receive three Coast Guard Commendation Medals with the Operational “O” device along with the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Meritorious Unit Citation.
Further accolades would come his way further toward the end of his career. The Ancient Mariner award was established in 1978, the same year Hagstrom assumed command of the CGC Jarvis, as a way to honor those officer and enlisted Coast Guard Cuttermen who possess the dedication and professionalism of the profession and hold the distinction of Cuttermen longer than others. The cutterman designation is decreed after five years of sea-service, but to qualify for the Ancient Mariner, a person must have ten years of sea-duty to qualify.
Captain Axel John Hagstrom became the very first Golden Ancient Mariner of the Coast Guard and held that distinction until his retirement in 1984 having completed 37 years of active duty service.