Film About Dramatic Coast Guard Rescue off Chatham Opens This Weekend

The Finest Hours Premiere

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BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: The Walt Disney Studios hosted a special 3D IMAX Screening of the Finest Hours for the US Coast Guard and local family, friends and supporters of the movie which was filmed in Quincy MA. Chris Pine accepts an award from the US Coast Guard at the screening of THE FINEST HOURS on January 28, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for Allied Integrated Marketing)

CHATHAM – The film “The Finest Hours,” which chronicles what is considered to be the greatest small boat rescue in the history of the Coast Guard, opened nationwide in theaters Friday.

The film is based on the book of the same name written by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman.

During a Nor’Easter on February 18, 1952, two 500-foot T2 tankers, the Fort Mercer and Pendleton, split in half off the coast of Chatham.

While one crew was sent out to assist the Fort Mercer, the Chatham Lifeboat Station, known today as Chatham Coast Guard Station, learned of the Pendleton’s predicament.

Boatswain’s Mate Bernard Webber was ordered to pick a crew and take out the CG-36500, a 36-foot wooden life boat, to rescue the crew of the Pendleton.

“They are given a suicide mission,” said Sherman. “They are told to take a 36-foot life boat into 60-foot waves with a simple order ‘save as many men as you can.’ And they do it.”

When Webber went to choose a crew there were only three men available, as other crew members left after hearing the CG-36500 would be sent out.

Those men were Seaman Richard Livesey, Seaman Irving Maske, from the nearby Stonehorse Light Ship, and Engineman Andrew Fiztgerald, the station’s junior engineer.

Andy Fitzgerald, the only surviving member of the rescue crew that saved 32 seamen off of the sinking Pendleton in February of 1952.

Andy Fitzgerald, the only surviving member of the rescue crew that saved 32 seamen off of the sinking Pendleton in February of 1952.

Fitzgerald is the only surviving member of the four-man rescue team.

“The old motto used to be ‘You gotta go out but you don’t have to come back,’” Fitzgerald said during a 2014 interview. “That is no longer the motto but I think it should be.”

As the CG-36500 crossed the Chatham bar, it was struck by a large wave and sent airborne before crashing on its side between waves. The self-righting boat recovered and was smashed again – breaking its windshield and losing its compass.

The boat then traveled out into deeper water with even higher wave heights.

On several instances the lifeboat’s engine would cut out due to the engine losing its prime from rolling over. Each time this happened Fitzgerald would crawl into the small compartment to restart the engine while fighting through severe burns and bruises.

“You didn’t have time to think about it. You had things you had to do and you just did it,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s kind of an instinct type deal. We didn’t have training for it because you don’t get those kind of storms that you can train for.”

Webber and his crew finally reached the twisted metal wreck of one half of the Pendleton, which was carrying 33 crew members.

A Jacob’s ladder was tossed over the side of the Pendleton and crew members began to scale down the ladder jumping into the bow of the rescue boot or into the sea where the rescue crew, including Fitzgerald would help them into the boat.

The CG-36500, which was supposed to carry far less passengers, now contained the four rescuers along with 32 members of the Pendleton’s crew.

CG-36500, the boat used in the historic rescue, off the coast of Chatham.

CG-36500, the boat used in the historic rescue, off the coast of Chatham.

An attempt was made to retrieve the final Pendleton crew member, but he did not survive.

Webber safely guided the boat back to the fish pier where a crowd of Chatham residents helped to bring the men ashore.

“The thoughts I had then was that was a tough job but we were able to do it,” Fitzgerald said. “And that followed me through the rest of my life. If you had a tough job try it and see if you can do it.”

Webber, Fitzgerald, Livesey and Maske were all awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on May 7, 1952. The medal is the highest honor for the Coast Guard.

Sherman said the movie, which included filming locations in Quincy, Marshfield, Cohasset and on the Cape in Chatham, is a real superhero movie.

“They don’t wear capes or tights. They wear hand-me-down galoshes and foul weather gear from World War II,” he said. “But people need to know real heroes exist in this world.”

Fitzgerald is portrayed in the film by Kyle Gallner, a West Chester, Pennsylvania native who previously starred in “American Sniper.”

The Disney release also stars Chis Pine, as Webber, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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