Posts Tagged ‘The Finest Hours’

(Author’s note:  Members of the Steele family contacted me after reading my book, “Two Tankers Down,” which recounts the wreck of the Fort Mercer and Pendleton off Cape Cod in 1952.  The Steele family story is one I would have loved to have told to Bernie when he still lived.)

Of the 32 men rescued from the SS Pendleton, for sure one was a father.

Perhaps it played out this way for all 32 who were plucked up by Bernie Webber and his crew that night off Cape Cod in February 1952.  I’d like to think so.

But what is certain in this case and many other rescues performed by the Coast Guard and other search and rescue ops worldwide is this:

You often don’t just rescue one person.  Often, indirectly, you rescue families.  You don’t save just one person. You may save a whole generation. And the next.

But as I said, in this case, they saved a father — a guy named Ray.

Here’s what happened in February 1952.

Raymond Guy Steele was 25 years old when he climbed down the ladder of the sinking SS Pendleton and was plucked from the sea and certain death by Webber and his crew aboard the CG 36500.  Ray

He was the sixth of nine children, raised in East St. Louis, in a one bedroom house by a family of Pentecostal farmers forced off the land in Southern Illinois into the city to earn a living.

His brother, Roy, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.  Another brother, Russell, joined the merchant marine — though statistically, that was more dangerous than Army infantry.  Ray followed those footsteps and when he was 18 became a merchant mariner as the war wound down.

He was a good looking kid and saw the world in the booming post-war years. “I’ve been everywhere, sometimes twice,” he would say later.

“Wow!  The whole world was opened,” Marie, his wife, would write. “He could go anywhere, see everything, do anything, and he did!

And in case some shore-leave brawl pops into your head, that’s not what Ray considered fun.

“He always liked to end up in New York City and visit all the jazz clubs on 52nd Street. He had a life-long love of jazz…”

And these were not jazz for the chumps clubs.  He hung at Kelley’s Stables. There,  a new bee bop sound emerged with advanced harmonies and altered chords. Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis were there but Ray came to hear the Hawk — the great saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.

So he was not your ordinary able bodied seaman — if there is such a thing as an ordinary able bodied seaman.  He was, it is fair to say, a handsome fellow.  Look at pictures today and a teenager would say, “Your grandad was hot!” Ray Hot Shot

But he was also quiet, sometimes even shy. He thought about meaning.  If ever he had a son, what would he name him?

In 1952, the top boy baby name were James, Robert, John, Michael, David.

But Ray particularly liked Coleman Hawkins — so much the thought formed in Ray’s mind: 

Coleman would be a great name for a son if ever he was to have one.  

“Coleman” was not among the top ten baby names of 1952, nor the top 50, nor the top one hundred.  Not a lot of white merchant mariners were naming their sons after African American pioneers of the bebop sound, but that, as they would say now, was just how he rolled.

Somewhere in there on leave, he returned home to East St. Louis, just in time to have a friend of the family introduce him to Marie, a lovely young woman and freshly minted high school graduate.  She was flattered that this handsome 23-year-old man of the world asked her out on a date but saw something beyond that in his nature.  He was “between ships” and did not rush “off the beach” back to sea very fast at all.   The two of them were together all that summer.

He was not gone long when Marie got a call from Ray.  Would she meet him where his ship was docked in Baltimore? Would she come right away?

She did and his intent was clear. Deeply in love, the couple hopped a cross-country Greyhound to New Orleans and were married.

busRenee, their first child, was born 18 months later in June 1951.  Ray was making good money shipping out.  He continued.

Ray sailed for seven years after the war, making 61 trips.  He had some sweet gigs in the banana trades, on the “white fleet,” to South and Central America and back.

And there was plenty to do more than bananas.  America was exporting, importing, trading with a world being rebuilt.  The country throbbed with an industrial hum that ran on energy from oil and gas carried in tankers.

So it was a routine thing in February 1952 when in Louisiana he stepped on board the SS Pendleton, a T-2 tanker built during World War II to win the war, for a voyage north to New England.  The ships were made hurriedly but won the war for America, supplying Great Britain and our armies and navies with the fuel needed to defeat the bad guys.

The problem was, they kept sailing.  Inside the steel was a high amount of sulfur which at low temperatures made the metal behave more like a crystal.  The problem was known but was said to be managed by huge metal straps wound round the hull.

Off Chatham in February 1952, those straps did not hold.  Two T-2 tankers, the SS Fort Mercer and the SS Pendleton, split in half.  The Coast Guard station in Chatham scrambled its small boats to rescue the crew as cutters swept toward the rescue from miles away. Pendleton_Half_Ship_2

Ray and the crew of the Pendleton maintained their cool.  They were in the stern half of the Pendleton — still upright and somewhat navigable.  The poor folks in the bow had been swept away and were just gone.

The Pendleton mess boiled up eggs for the men and they held them in their pockets — both as food and as make-shift hand warmers.  It’s not improbable that Ray heard “Hawk” Hawkin’s riff on “Body and Soul” cross through his mind as he pondered his fate.

From the rail of the broken ship, the odds seemed very bad for Ray to be fathering any sons or daughters, whatever he might name them. All those dreams ended here.  Any rescue attempt through these seas would be a suicide run.

Then, through 60-foot waves, with no compass, no radar, no guidance from this earth, Bernie Webber and the CG 36500 came from nowhere on an impossible mission that was — impossibly — accomplished.

PENDLETON RESCUE (FOR RELEASE)

CHATHAM, Mass. (May 15)–The original crew of CG 36500 sets sail again 50 years later in commemoration of the anniversary of the tanker Pendleton rescue off the coast of Chatham, Mass., in February 1952. The Pendleton split in two during a fierce storm boasting 60-foot seas and hurricane force winds. All but one of the 33 crewmen onboard the Pendleton were saved by the crew of 36500. USCG photo by PA3 Amy Thomas

The men filed down the ladder and all but one were saved.  Webber and the crew brought them into Chatham, where the townspeople gave them comfort, food and dry clothing.  Webber collapsed in a bed and as he slept the crew members, Ray included, sneaked into his room and emptied saltwater-wet dollar bills from their wallets onto the dresser.  Pendleton_Relief_sm

There were awards of course.  Medals. Bernie was a hero.  And from my hours talking with him, I know for sure he knew that he and the crew did something good.  But it was truly overshadowed in his mind — and the minds of the others — by the one guy they lost.

This was no false humility and it was not to be argued with. (I tried.) There’s no giving comfort to a rescuer regarding those who were lost.  They have their own math, count their own sums. 

But you can sure show the lives of those who were saved — and I would  have loved it if Bernie were alive now so I could show him what he gave to Ray, his family and the world.

So Bernie, in the reverse format  of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey style, here’s what would NOT have happened had you not made that trip, but did because you did.

Ray stopped shipping out after the Pendleton.  He returned home to his young daughter and into the arms of Marie.

In March, just a few weeks after the rescue, she learned she was pregnant.

In December, Ray and Marie had a child, a son.  And they named him Coleman of course.

Ray found land work.  They returned to Illinois to be around family.  Eventually, they moved to the river town of Alton.  Quiet and introspective personally, professionally Ray was a natural salesman.  He sold ads for a radio station first, moved to insurance and then to autos.

The couple had two more children, Mark in May of 1955 and Laura in June 1955.Kids

Outside the job, “Ray was shy and didn’t socialize much,” Marie wrote me. “We had his big family to visit with.  It was all he needed. At home he was full of jokes, stories — and music! … music everywhere.”

Coleman looked just like his dad, but it was Mark who had the musical gene. He played bass in local bands for years.

And of course, the kids grew up.

Marie writes:

“Renee had Tony; Coleman had Carrie and Nathan; Mark had Damon, Spencer and Ryan; and Laura had Amanda and Chad.

“Now we are having Great Grand Children, Damon has Mason and in April Chad will have Ben…

 

“We are truly Blessed, Ray would have adored them…”25th anniversary

“Ray developed Parkinson’s Disease in 1996, no known cause, but the doctors were interested in the fact that he sailed so many ‘Banana Boats that filled the holds with pesticides…”

“Ray passed away 10/15/2006-8 weeks to the day that he fell and broke his hip-1 week after his 79th birthday.”

Which, given his life expectancy in February 1952 , is what you would call a right good long run.

The generations continue.

Marie:

“The 5 oldest Grand children, Carrie,Tony,Amanda,Chad and Damon have all graduated from College and the girls have their Masters,  Carrie in Art , and Amanda in Social Work. All are ‘gainfully employed,’ what more could you ask for?

“Thank you again for writing ‘2 Tankers Down’ it has brought back so many memories to share with the next generation.”

Ahh, thank you Marie and Ray and the entire family for sharing this. And showing that rescuers, often rescue more than one person.

And happy Father’s Day Bernie and Ray.

And to all Coast Guard rescuers everywhere of all genders and nationalities.

You do good.  Far beyond what you see first hand.  Or could ever imagine.

For years and years, through the people you save, and through their people, you do good.

===================

Below are notes and pictures from the family

=========================================================================

 

Coleman and family

 

movie poster

Hi, here’s my short bio about myself:)

I am 32 years old and live in St. Louis, Missouri. I have my Masters in Social Work and work for the state of Illinois. I am passionate about my work and am one of the fortunate ones who enjoys their job everyday! I am extremely social, love trying new restaurants and going to new fun spots in the city. I love traveling and keep myself pretty busy with an active social life.

I loved your book, Two Tankers Down, as well as the movie, The Finest Hours. I grew up spending a lot of time at my grandparents house, and spending a lot of time with Gramps, that’s what his grandkids called him. I had heard the story about his shipwreck, but too be perfectly honest, as a child I thought it was a, “tall tale” that gramps had embellished to make a good story. I mean how can a tanker break in half, stay afloat, and the crew steered it??? That was the most amazing part to me about this story, the unbeliveablenuss and what a brave man my grandfather was. In the years where he spent watching all of us, he didn’t have any desire to travel or at sometimes really leave the house. He would always say,” I’ve been everywhere, some places twice, I want to stay home and be with my family.” At the time I couldn’t begin to understand what he meant, but I knew that we were the most important thing to him, and that was really all that mattered. There are a million great things I could say about gramps; he was funny, kind, mild mannered, and loving, but above all he had integrity, compassion, and a love for knowledge and those are things I’ve always strived to posses as well. Thank you for your research into the Pendleton, and making my grandfather live for eternity in your writings!

Amanda Kraner

Hello Robert,

My name is Chad Kraner and I am Ray’s grandson. My mother is Laura Steele Kraner and I am 31 years old. I was very excited to hear the news the Disney was making a movie about the Pendleton. It was a story all of us grandkids loved to hear my Grandpa tell. My Grandfather was an extremely kind man and had a great sense of humor. I can remember sitting on his front porch watching cars go by and trying to guess which direction the next car would come from. Every time we would come to visit he would give us a dollar before we left and it just meant the world to me. We had so many good times playing wiffle ball in the back yard or watching Notre Dame football games. I’m smiling now thinking about all of the memories with Gramps and I miss him a lot. I know he would have loved reading your book and reading it to the next generation of Steeles to tell them the story of the SS Pendleton.

Chad

History v . Hollywood is a cool fact checking site, and for the most part, they’ve got The Finest Hours right. but my research, as presented in Two Tankers Down, shows they made one big mistake. (Two Tankers Down quotes Sybert directly from his testimony at the Coast Guard hearing.)

Here is the History v. Hollywood mistake.

Did Ray Sybert really try to run the Pendleton aground?

No. Unlike what unfolds in The Finest Hours movie, Chief Engineer Ray Sybert actually decided to keep the Pendleton’s stern as far offshore as possible, fearing that the ship might further break up in the relentless surf. If the ship got close, Sybert ordered that the propeller be turned to keep the ship offshore in more moderate seas. -MWDC.org

Incorrect on all counts. And the Hollywood site cites only a dive club for its information.

Sybert DID run the the stern aground and did it intentionally.

He never tried to steer it into deep water.  He couldn’t

True, he did NOT have an elaborate plan — as was portrayed in the movie.

Here is Two Tankers Down (documented by hearing transcripts) on what Sybert could and could not do.

Now, Sybert took stock.  He thought they were close to shore.    They had been nearly 25 miles offshore due east of northern Cape Cod,  but their drift was south and west now, which would take them quickly toward the elbow of Cape Cod, toward Chatham.  That fact had been a blessing initially.  Comforting somehow. But now?

He could maneuver the stern section a bit, but he knew they were drifting too rapidly toward shore – the Cape Cod shore where so many thousands of wrecks had washed up.  If he attempted to steer and control too aggressively, the ship would pitch and lurch.  There was little that he could do other than go with the flow and steer to keep the stern section straight.  He could not steam her farther out to sea, just keep her straight as she drifted. Everytime he attempted to steer and maneuver, he could, briefly, but the forward exposed part of the stern dipped down and got drenched.

Key phrase here:  If he attempted to steer and control too aggressively, the ship would pitch and lurch.  There was little that he could do other than go with the flow and steer to keep the stern section straight.  He could not steam her farther out to sea, just keep her straight as she drifted.

As to the stranding, here is how it happened — not via some grand plan conceived after the break-up but an opportunistic choice between two alternatives, put it on a soft sandy shoal or let it drift farther to an unknown shore.

Here is Two Tankers Down, again documented via transcripts and Sybert’s testimony:

Hicks and Sybert were taking drafts now not with the Jacobs Ladder but with a leaded line that gave them more precise readings.  They were okay for now.  But inevitably they were closing at an acute angle with the shore.

Sybert decided it then.  The boat was on the way.  He could hear the boatsman – Bernie it must have been – say he was 45 minutes out, maybe.  It looked as if there was a smooth sand bar not far away.  How were the waves breaking on the bar? He asked Quiley.  Smooth, sir.  Not crashing.  The waves were breaking smooth on the bar.  It was daylight still.  Lord knows what lay ahead in the night. Blind uncertainty and the chance of rocks. They were maneuvering and the ship was lurching even more now, listing 40 degrees to port.

“Stop!” Sybert said.   “We had better go on the beach than capsize.”

And so he put the ship aground then.  Stopped the maneuvering of the engines.  Let the ship drift in on the bar and she touched the sand sweetly with only a bit of rock and sway.

Lars and the Real Boat

Let me be clear: I was loaded for bear when I walked into “The Finest Hours.”

The movie is not based on my book, Two Tankers Down, but I put in months of research and writing about the rescue of the crew of the SS Pendleton (and in my book, also the SS Fort Mercer.)

So with that investment, I was certain Hollywood was going to screw over another honest hero and turn him into some stereotyped cartoon character. The trailers and previews of the movie — cheesy bits and clips — only set my jaw in resolve to clobber the lotus eaters.

But slowly, as the film rolled, I was won over.

Director Craig Gillespie, who also did one of my favorite indie films, Lars and the Real Girl, pulled off a minor miracle here: giving what could have been a mindless action movie depth, emotion and importance. 

No, the meeting with Miriam was not exact. Bernie was no looker for one thing so the lines about how handsome he was surely would have made Mr. Webber shake with laughter.

And they left out this huge “meet cute” scene in the book where Miriam was a telephone operator who anonymously called Bernie and talked with him for hours when he was on overnight duty.

But they did what film directors and screen writers are supposed to do when they do things right: They captured the essence of it. The “bear” coat joke was in there. And so was the mood of the relationship.

When the scene changed to action at sea, I was astounded at how they captured the motion of the boat, the waves and the wind. You only get that sense if you’ve been to sea in winds and waves near that velocity. So how they imagined it or recreated remains a mystery to me. I just know that they did because I’ve been in seas that have made a supertanker roll at 30 degree angles.

You can quarrel with some of the plot choices. I won’t.

Miriam never visited Bernie at the Coast Guard station the night of the rescue. They were not engaged then. She was home in bed and Bernie did not even want to bother her. But of course she knew he would be “out there” on a night like that.

As a non-fiction author, this is something I could never do in my book, but then there are and should be different rules for film. No, you can’t have aliens intervene and show Bernie the way. (That only happens in Fargo.) And you can’t have him tow the ship to safety while swimming with a rope in his teeth.

But to my mind the romance is not some cheesy bit thrown into the movie stew to make this a date movie and sell popcorn. The romance serves a real purpose in defining the plot and the tensions and conflicts.

And that tension is this: the macho code of “you have to go out, you don’t have to come back” versus a more humane understanding of life and death situations.

In the world of non-fiction writing, I was able to do that by illustrating some of the crueler historical results of “you have to go out” philosophy where men needlessly were sent to their deaths — or in some cases shamed themselves into impossible rescue missions. Yes, it’s a code of valor and honor. But the cruel side of it is undeniable and needed to be stated.

You can’t do what I did in a movie. But Miriam can express that very human concern. And particularly in the confrontation with the Chief, she does this. To me that is a huge scene with the Chief reluctantly but resolutely confirming the order and Miriam persisting — until she could no longer persist.

So as a stickler for fact in non-fiction writing and narrative literature — no compound characters! no collapsing of time! — and as one of the toughest purveyors of fact in this rescue, I think they get more than a pass here.

I think they get applause for defining the issue. The Coast Guard spent more than 50 years wrestling with the philosophy before adapting a more common sense version of risk assessment. The Finest Hours nails it in about 10 minutes of narrative. They get props for that.

So much to my surprise, I walked out of the theater feeling the story had been told well and truly.

Other critics have not felt that way. I think many of them walked in expecting a Disney movie and a lot of the subtext to the movie went over their heads.

I’m not suggesting they are mouth breathers or slow learners.

Not all of them.

I am suggesting they know little of the real world of oceans and maritime rescues.

And also that they’ve spent way too much time expecting Iron Man to ironically save Wolverine from the Silver Surfer.

They seem to have lost their palate for a story that is — though not always factual — ever so truthful.

We seem to have forgotten that people act as Bernie Webber acted. (And as many people still do today, overshadowed by overpaid auto-tuned divas, overpaid athletes and cartoon comic book heroes with the same first world adolescent problems.)

One critic actually called the film “too old fashioned” because of its values.

And in a few weeks, I’ll wonder again how “Mad Max Part Five” is actually a contender for the Oscars and why those same critics consider it such a cinematic wonder.

In the meantime, let me urge you to see The Finest Hours.

Forget about the cheesy previews. Forget about the half-hearted reviews.

Just sit down and experience how a common man found true heroism within.

Because this is not a story from an earlier, simpler time. It is a story from a time when we recognized these values as true and worthwhile. The actions and the values are still around us.

We just don’t recognize them.

And in part, that is because they just don’t get that much attention from critics who have had their brains blasted out by irony and SurroundSound cartoon movies.

—–Bob Frump

“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.

The Finest Hours is a faithful and truthful telling of the rescue of crewmen on the tanker the SS Pendleton.

Truthful does not in all cases mean factual.  There are no huge bloopers in the movie.  There is compounding of characters and time is both stretched, cut and pasted.

For me it works, and I figure I’m in as good a position as anyone to judge this.  I spent a good chunk of time and hours and hours talking with Bernie, researching the wreck, combing through archived records and cross-checking with him for my book on the rescue, “Two Tankers Down.”

In other words, I know this subject matter well, and I am not indebted to the studio.

So how did the Hollywood guys do on the facts?

Based on the cheesy previews and trailers, I was prepared to flatten this baby.  But in fact, it’s well done and true to the event and the people even if the facts are not sometimes.

There are no “Pants on Fire” rankings here.  And some of my “catches” are nerdish maritime writer notes.  What some people MIGHT think are whoppers I can accept and I’ll explain why.

Let the Fact Check begin:

  1. Miriam Webber did not come down to the Coast Guard Station.
    In fact, she was very sick at home with the flu.  The couple had been married before the rescue.
    Why it doesn’t matter to me:   The film pretty well represents the couple’s romance, right down to the “bear skin” coat.  The presence of Miriam in the film allows for a nice conflict of concerns:  a human concern for life versus the Coast Guard code of the ‘You have to go out– you don’t have to come back.”   I guess for purists this would be a pants on fire fact fail.  For me, I think it’s a great bit of dramatic license that while not factual gets the truth across.
  2. Bernie was far taller and less pretty than Chris Pine.
    Bernie was kind of a big lug of a guy.  Okay, but Pine does a pretty good job of playing Bernie as the good-hearted and well-intended fella he was. If there is a critique here, I’d say the director portrays Bernie as a little dumb and simple.  He wasn’t.  He was cagey enough to know questions I would ask him before I asked them.  The guy had been admitted to a top prep school.  He had an unerring ability to compute multiple factors in his head — navigational and personal.  On the other hand, Bernie often played dumb.  And in social matters, he could be dumb. I can’t fault Pine’s performance at all and feel it’s on the money.
  3. The Pendleton did not split at a weld.
    I told you this would get a little nerdy.  But T-2 tankers did not have welding faults — though it was widely suspected they did.  Their fault was in the type of steel used, which under 50 degrees turned brittle.  Cracks would form and race through the whole hull.  The “crack arrestors” or steel belts were there to stop that, not reinforce the welding.  This is about a big a false fact as I can find.  But it’s not crucial to the plot or the fact that the ships were flawed.
  4. At times the movie actually understates conditions.
    I’ve read some reviews that say the angle of the lifeboat ascending waves was improbable.  The movie had it right.  It might have been interesting to dwell on the boat descending waves — when Webber had to jam the engine in reverse to slow the boat as it gained speed.  Had he not done that, the boat would have essentially kept going to the bottom.
    Other understatements: Bernie emerged from the “bar” crossing with windshield fragments embedded in his skull.  The men in the engine room of the boat fried great sections of their arms on the hot motor.  Not essential to the movie, and I thought actually showed some restraint.5. The “Lost Man” was probably “lost” before he hit the water.If I did nothing else through Two Tankers Down, I hope I eased Bernie’s mind on this death.  Throughout his life Bernie was haunted by the one guy he lost.  He mentioned this frequently in conversations and correspondence.  The crew and the rescuers even concocted a story to say that Tiny was the last man down the ladder — and had waited until all were clear.
    In fact, Tiny was probably in the advanced stages of hypothermia.  He was a large man, 300+ pounds.  And at the top of the ship, he had stripped off all his clothes, in the advanced stages of hypothermia.  This phenomenon is known as “paradoxical undressing.”  The blood flows suddenly from the heart to the extremities and causes a feeling of burning.  Once in this state, few come back.  So yes, the rescuers could not get Tiny in the boat.  But almost certainly, even had they been able to wrestle the huge man up over the side, he would have passed.6. Livesey and Bernie had no beefMore dramatic license here.  Bernie and his crew member had no quarrel or grudge as suggested in the film.  They respected each other.  The director uses the grudge as a way of referring back to the story of an earlier failed rescue — when Webber and others tried in vain to reach a fishing boat on the other side of the Chatham Bar.Again, in my mind: poetic license granted.  This worked for me as a dramatic device.7. There is a bittersweet ending to the real story.

    The movie tells the tale well and has no obligation to go beyond the story.  Truth is life got very complicated for Bernie after the awards with some of the brass.  He was offered the Lifesaving Gold Medal and declined it unless his whole crew got it. (They did.) He was nearly court martialed for disobeying the order to take the boat out to sea to offload the rescued.
    Worse, some of his own colleagues shunned him in the egalitarian ranks of the non-officer corps, or gave him the cold shoulder.
    Uncomfortable with the spotlight, he nevertheless was forced to do speech tours with the Coast Guard brass when he wanted nothing more to get back on his boat with his crew.
    Then, as a publicity project, in the early days of the Vietnam War, the Coast Guard shipped him over in charge of a riverine warfare gunboat.  There he performed close-in duty, in the mode of Apocalypse Now.  It’s the one thing I could not get him to talk about. He retired from the Coast Guard shortly after this tour, thinking the Coast Guard had moved into another era.
    The good news is he maintained his sense of honor and self dignity.  He actively chose to stay within the working ranks of non-commissioned officers when he might easily have become an officer.  Decades later, Coast Guard rescue workers still talk of him.

    8. The movie may have overstated Bernie’s natural courage and understated his doubts.

    Throughout his voyage to the bar, Bernie kept saying to himself that they would call him back, he hoped they would call him back.  I mention this not to criticize Bernie but to underscore the fact that he was a real human being with real thoughts, not a hero sprung from whole cloth.  I can’t fault the director too much here.

9.  They did not sing a sea chanty as they motored toward the bar.
           
          They sang the hymn Rock of Ages.

Let me know what other questions you have.  Also, if you’re interested in the other wreck that day — involving the SS Fort Mercer — you’ll find it in my book, Two Tankers Down.