SUMMARY OF THE TRUE STORY
UPDATE 2/4/2020: Disney's movie "The Finest Hours" is based on the the true story of the rescue of the crew of the US merchant ship PENDLETON on Feb.18,1952. The incredible rescue was led by real life Petty Officer First Class, Boatswain's mate Bernard Webber. The rescue took place as a hurricane-force storm was barreling toward New England. As the story opens the oil tanker FORT MERCER had split in two off the south coast of Cape Cod. As a result of the rescue efforts for the Fort MERCER most of the region's search and rescue (SAR) assets were occupied. When the call came in to assist the PENDLETON the oil tanker SS FORT MERCER split in two, so the majority of the region's cutters and air assets went to help the FORT MERCER. The surface asset chosen to help the PENDLETON was the 36 foot wooden motor life boat CG36500 of Chatham (MA) Life Boat Station. There were hurricane force winds blowing where the stern section of the PENDELTON now broken in two, was floating with most of her surviving crew. Seas have been estimated as high as 60 feet and snow was blowing. This was not a place to be in a 36 foot wooden boat, despite being stoutly build for operations in rough seas.The CG 36500 left with a crew of four, Webber who been assigned by the Chatham command as the best coxswain for the job and three volunteers. Ervin Maske, Andrew Fitzgerald, and Richard P. Livesey who knew they were volunteering for a probable suicide mission. Reminding themselves of the famous Coast Guard organizational statement and personal code of "The book says you have to go out, it doesn't say you have to come back"; the unlikely rescuers headed out into the winter storm of the century.
The book that became the basis for the Disney adventure movie chronicled what the crew of the CG 36500 went through to actually reach the side of the PENDELTON. The movie also depicts the impossible sounding evacuation of the PENDELTON in which one crewman was lost and the rugged over crowded trip ( more than 30 survivors on a boat built to accommodate 12) home through the rough seas, now with navigation and communications equipment damaged. So how true was the movie to the book and actual events? Well we noticed only two major deviations from the true story as best as we could obtain it. First the real life Bernard Webber was about 27 at the time of the mission.but he looked a bit older than the actor who played him in the movie. He was a WWII veteran, a very tough and experienced mariner. He wasn't engaged at the time but married, though he may have been a relative newly wed. His wife didn't play any part in the rescue or pleading with the command structure to call back the apparent suicide mission.During the rescue she was ill and incoherent and being taken care of by neighbors. She had no idea about the mission until she regained some of her health and the story was already out and drawing media attention. So Bernard Webber was more experienced than the impression that is given by the lead actor in the movie . His real life marriage was fictionalized into the romantic interest of the movie and to underscore the suicidal nature of the mission as the actress playing his "Fiancee" argues with the command at Chatham to call back the 'Suicide mission".. Other than that ,we agree with the assessment of the book's authors Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman that the movie is true to the non fiction book except for a few small details inserted to enhance the romance and bring out the character of certain real life figures about whom history knows little.The movie doesn't claim to be a documentary but simply a film based on a true story.
It is worth mentioning that the daughter of Bernard and Miriam attended the opening screening of the movie. She told the screen play writers that they had captured the spirit of her mother. According to the daughter her mother really did make the proposal for the marriage and would have barged in the station just as depicted in the movie if she had known what was going on at the time. Chatham was a small town and the local fishermen knew the waters and were of the opinion that the mission was suicidal. At the relevant time Miriam was bed ridden and periodically lapsing in and out of consciousness having caught a bad strain of influenza. She was being cared for by neighbors.
Bernard Webber in the uniform of a First Class Boatswain's mate. Bernard Webber served the Coast Guard long and well for many years after the PENDELTON RESCUE and retired as a Chief Warrant Officer (4) . He died January 4, 2009 at the age of 80. He was offered the Gold Lifesaving Medal the highest award for search and rescue that the coast Guard can award. His volunteer crew was offered the silver life saving medal. Webber refused to accept the award of the gold medal until the Coast Guard finally agreed to award the gold medal to the entire crew..
|Image courtesy USCH HQ|
OUR ORIGINAL REVIEW OF THE MOVIE ( Two sources of the key actual facts follow.)
Disney's new movie FINEST HOURS is highly likely to eclipse THE GUARDIAN as the best Coast Guard movie ever made. While we felt the Guardian gave an accurate depiction of at least the aviation search and rescue culture of the modern U.S. Coast Guard, it was fiction loosely based on fact. FINEST HOURS is a true story apparently faithfully told from an earlier era of the U.S. Coast Guard than the more recent years depicted in the Guardian. Set in the mid 1950s it was still the era of bell bottoms, the cracker jack dress blues, difficult to use AM marine radios, no satellite navigation systems, and far less post casualty hand wringing and second guessing. It was, in the U.S. Merchant Marine, still within the service life of WWII era T-2 tankers, though these were aging rapidly. In the true story behind FINEST HOURS set in the dead of winter off the coast of New England we are given a very realistic look into an era that ended by 1970, the days before mustang suits, and personal emergency radio locators. This was the last era where we so frequently heard the old Coast Guard unofficial motto: "The book says you have to go out, It doesn't say you have to come back."
Today the missions are no easier but the equipment is much better.
A number of us here at the AAB are products of the latter part of the era (1965-1970) and remember it well and the technological and operational doctrine revolution in SAR (search and rescue) that followed. FINEST HOURS is a story of the recent past when the Coast Guard's "soldiers of the storm" did the best they could with what they had. They have better equipment today, but still suffer fatalities annually. The sea has no limits as to what it can throw at you. The special effects in FINEST HOURS rival and in some cases exceed those in the GUARDIAN or THE PERFECT STORM. The story is shown from both the view point of the rescuers and the merchant seamen in need of rescue, some of us here have been in both situations over the space of our long in the tooth maritime careers. Fortunately, few of us have been in the position of the First Class Boatswain's mate in the film whose future wife invades the operations center and demands that the SAR Incident Controller ( a warrant boatswain) bring the crew back, then accuses him of "sending them out to die". This is one of the reasons why we never talked much about work with our wives, and why such spaces are locked to non watch standers today. This is a visual and audio roller coaster of a film. It will be in theaters January 28, 2015. Buckle up and go, strap in and watch. Be prepared to hold your breath and experience the emotion, if not the moisture of a cold dunking. Water torture? This film will give you a whole new understanding of the concept.
THE NAVY TIMES HAS AN ELECTRONIC VERSION AND CARRIES A COMPARISON BETWEEN THE MOVIE AND THE DOCUMENTARY BOOK. SEE IT AT https://www.navytimes.com/off-duty/movies-video-games/2016/02/13/real-story-behind-the-finest-hours-how-the-movie-compares/
THE FLEET RESERVE ASSOCIATION'S MAGAZINE FOR FEBRUARY 2020 PROVIDES A FACTUAL ACCOUNT STARTING AT PAGE 17 WITH NUMEROUS PHOTOS.
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If interested in trying to obtai a copy of the article mentioned in this post mention volume 99 NO.2
Watch the trailers linked to below. If you tend to agree with our assessment re-tweet our tweets, forward the trailer links, encourage your friends to see it. This film finally does for Coast Guard SAR boat crews what BACK DRAFT did for firemen.
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Finest Hours Trailer 1
Finest Hours Trailer 2
Finest Hours, THE LONG TRAILER
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