Last Surviving Crewman of ‘Greatest Small Boat Rescue in Coast Guard History’ Passes Away

CHATHAM – Andrew “Fitzy” Fitzgerald, the last surviving member of the Coast Guard crew that famously rescued 32 men from a sinking oil tanker during a 1952 nor’easter, passed away at age of 86 on Thursday.

The historic rescue, known as “the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history,” was documented by Casey Sherman in a book that was later portrayed in a Disney movie, “The Finest Hours.”

“I had the great honor of getting to know Andy, not only writing the book, but also working on our film, “The Finest Hours.” Some of the greatest memories I’ll ever have are with that man,” said Sherman.

“I had a sense of calmness and peace when I heard that Andy had passed yesterday. He had been dealing with severe health issues over the past several years, but it was a great chance for me to kind of remember the Andy that I knew – somebody that was the most humbling of heroes, somebody that had a very quick wit and a twinkle in his eye.”

Sherman posted the following statement to Facebook on Thursday:

The world lost a true hero today and I have lost an old and dear friend. Sadly, Andy “Fitzy” Fitzgerald, the last surviving member of The Finest Hours lifeboat crew, passed away at his home this morning. His courage and kindness will not be forgotten by me or the millions of readers and moviegoers around the world that marveled at their story. It was Andy who truly prompted me to write The Finest Hours, when an initially reluctant Bernie Webber told me to pound sand. Finally, Bernie agreed to the project only because it would shine the light on Andy and the rest of his historic crew including Ervin Maske and Richard Livesey. I was honored to share his last boat ride on the CG36500, to travel with Andy to the Coast Guard Command Center in Washington, DC to speak in 2010 and equally honored to be with him for the world premiere of our movie in Hollywood in 2016. Andy was as funny as he was brave. He began his speech in Washington this way – “I was told never to start a speech with the words It was a dark and stormy night – But it Really Was!!” In Hollywood just after seeing the movie for the first time, I asked him if we did justice to his story. He paused and said, “it was exactly how I remembered it except for one thing – Bernie swore at us a lot out there on the ocean!” I politely reminded Andy that we had made a Disney movie and he nodded and winked at me. That was the last time I ever saw Andy and it is a memory I will always treasure. Semper Paratus my friend. Say hello to the rest of the guys for me. You’ve made it over the Bar one last time.

My heart goes out to his wife Gloria and their wonderful family.

During the storm, which surged off the off the coast of Cape Cod, had split two large tankers on the oil tanker, Pendleton, causing the ship to start sinking.

Fitzgerald, a Hyannis native, was a 20-year-old engineer for the Coast Guard at the time, joined three other Coast Guardsmen onboard the 36500, a 36-foot boat, to search for the sinking tanker and conduct a rescue.

The four men took off from Chatham Harbor and into 60-foot sea swells. With the engine stalling throughout the trip, Fitzgerald had to work below deck to try to restart it, burning himself multiple times with hot plugs in the process.

Eventually, the crew made it out to the 33 seamen, and miraculously saved 32 of them.

Sherman got to know Fitzgerald while writing the book, and says Fitzgerald never viewed the rescue as successful because of the one man they couldn’t save.

“Like the other heroes of “The Finest Hours,” Andy had never told his family what he had done during that rescue. In fact, he was married for three years to his lovely wife, Gloria, before he ever told her,” Sherman explained.

“When I asked him why, he said, ‘Casey, she never asked me!’ That was really this humbleness and modesty that not only Andy had, but the other three heroes of “The Finest Hours,” had as well.”

By TIM DUNN, News Center

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