Posts Tagged ‘Finest Hours’

“I wonder what Bernie would think,” said a writer friend of mine.  “He was so meticulous in his telling of the story, that he may not have appreciated all the liberties the screenwriters took.”

Would Bernie have liked the film?

Oh, hell no.  HELL no.

Not at first anyway.

Bernie wasn’t happy with any account of the rescue, including his own.

He was okay with “Two Tankers Down” but wrote me:

“…it is difficult for me to read such a glorifying accout. To this day it was one of the many challenges of service life and going to sea for 24 years thereafter on all kinds of buckets makes it pale to some of the other adventures faced….”

And he would not let me forget that somehow in the sea of ink in galleys, in one spot ever so briefly, I put the wrong number on a rescue boat.  He was peeved at that for days. Only reluctantly, over a couple of weeks did he acknowledge the book got it right, more or less and all his Coast Guard peers thought so

Bernie on the red carpet? He avoided the limelight and never profited from the rescue and in fact suffered a great deal as a result of the spotlight

But I sincerely think he would have warmed to this.

I think he would have enjoyed seeing Miriam portrayed as a glamorous woman, which he is exactly how he saw her. And after hurling his popcorn at the screen a couple of times, I think he would have recognized the larger truth here.

The spirt of the rescue was accurately portrayed.  The film could have gone wrong 10,000 different ways.  But the screen writers and director and actors shot the bar on this one, in my opinion

I think Bernie would have agreed.  Eventually.


(A reposting of my 2013 take on Bernie.)
Posted: February 18, 2013 in Contemporary Commentary
Bernie Webber was the least likely candidate to execute the greatest small-boat rescue in American history.Yet that is what he did, nearly 71 years ago to the date, in a very small boat, facing very large waves and larger odds.

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Bernie

His rescue of the crew of the SS Pendleton, a stricken oil tanker, off Chatham, MA, in February 1952 is one of the most heroic deeds performed by any Coast Guardsmen anywhere, anytime.

The second rescue crew that day accomplished a similarly impossible mission in pulling the officers from the Fort Mercer, a second tanker that had split in two during a powerful Atlantic storm.

Bernie was the trouble-prone son of a Baptist minister, who’d been well on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. Until he went to sea.

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Tbe Gold Medal Crew

And then, on the night of February 18, 1952, in a raging blizzard off the coast of Cape Cod, Webber, now a young lifeboat coxswain with the U.S. Coast Guard, and his crew performed a miracle.

Two big oil tankers had split in two in raging seas, and nothing—not a big cutter, not a sea plane, not a chopper—could reach them in time. Only Webber and his crew of three volunteers had a chance.
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He knew they would probably die on this mission. They were, after all, in an unassuming thirty-six-foot rescue boat that didn’t even have a name but for the “CG 36500” on its side. But he loved this boat—and he knew the inauspicious Coast Guard motto: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.”

Webber took the CG 36500 out in sixty-foot waves and saved thirty lives. He and his men won the rarely bestowed Coast Guard Gold Medal for Valor and a place in history that shapes the Coast Guard culture to this day.Pendleton_7_sm

What placed him apart from others?  Webber did not know; he only knew that events aligned so he was able to do the impossible, and he attributed it to  a higher power.
I think it surely was that — God, luck, karma, providence, you name it — but he was also captain of his fate.  Or at least a bosun of it.The man’s integrity was unbreakable.  When they offered him the Gold Lifesaving Medal and his crew the Silver, he turned them down.  He’d only take it, he said, if his crew received it as well.
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It would be nice to see his integrity and courage in today’s leaders. Oh, I think it is still in the Coast Guard.  I was thinking more of Congress as they now set off on a witch hunt to discover the holes in our maritime safety network — holes that they have put there.