I saw the first trailer for The Finest Hours yesterday and I can’t wait to see this movie! As a US Coast Guard family we don’t get to enjoy as many movies about our branch as other service members do so it’s always exciting when something like this sails into theaters!
Before the movie premieres lets take a look at the story behind The Finest Hours.
On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on anything caught in its destructive path, including two 500-foot oil tankers. The SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer, bound for Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, respectively, were both ripped in half, trapping their crews inside. For the senior officer aboard the stern of the Pendleton, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (played by Casey Affleck), he quickly realizes that it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and encourage them to work together to keep the ship afloat for as long as possible.
The U.S. Coast Guard Station in Chatham, Massachusetts was busy helping local fishermen protect their boats from the storm when they received word that the damaged ships were adrift in nearby waters. Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), the recently-appointed station chief, immediately dispatches the CG 36500 lifeboat under the command of Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) to search for survivors. Webber and his crew of three men on board the 36-foot motorized, wooden lifeboat, set off on the perilous mission with bleak prospects at best, and before they even clear the harbor, the boat’s windshield and compass are destroyed. Yet the men persevere, and despite hurricane-force winds, 70-foot waves, frigid temperatures and zero visibility, miraculously locate the Pendleton and rescue 32 of its 33 men in the midst of the turbulent storm. Facing the worst of Mother Nature, they head back into the belly of the beast, returning a total of 36 men home on their battered 12-seat lifeboat.
Of the many people closely involved with the February, 1952 rescue mission, only two are still around today, Coast Guard engineers Andy Fitzgerald and Mel “Gus” Gouthro. Fitzgerald, who was the Coast Guard third-class engineer, stepped in for his friend and senior engineer Gouthro, who was sick the night of the rescue, remaining in the Chatham Coast Guard station. Both men, still friends to this day, were engaged by the filmmakers in the early stages of development to help ensure all the facts and details were authentic. Both men have never forgotten that historic night, remembering it like it was yesterday.
“Some people still look at the Pendleton rescue as a suicide mission, but I never saw it like that,” says Fitzgerald, who is now 84 and lives with his wife in Colorado. “Like we used to say back then, ‘You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.’ Our job was to save people and that’s what we did, and I’m damn proud of that.”
Adds Gouthro, “When people ask me about the Pendleton what I try to impress on them is that it really was no big deal to these guys. Those four men went out and did their job. They didn’t like it…it’s not like they were having a good time out on that lifeboat, but it’s what they were told to do so they went out and did it.”
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