“The Finest Hours” pits the U.S. Coast Guard against Deadly Storms

Nichole Davila-Sanchez, Staff Writer

On Jan. 29, “The Finest Hours,” directed by Craig Gillespie, swept theaters. Starring actors like Chris Pine and Graham McTavish, this Disney film brings to the cinema screen the true story of Bernie Webber, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, as he and a small crew try to navigate the violently turbulent seas of the shore of Cape Cod, Mass., to rescue the crew of the S.S. Pendleton. On Feb. 18, 1952, the 500-foot, 10,000-ton tanker had been ripped in two by the storm, causing the front half of the ship to sink, and taking with it, eight of the 41 crewmembers, including the captain. This left 33 crew members stranded in the stern of the boat with no way to navigate or signal for help, as the engine room slowly filled with water. The ship’s nine cargo tanks of kerosene and heating oil spilled into the Atlantic as the crew of the S.S. Pendleton tried desperately to survive.

After receiving a tip from a local about hearing a ship’s horn a few miles off the Cape Cod coast, a radio call from the Coast Guard assisting in the rescue of another split tanker learned that the S.S. Pendleton was also split off the town’s shore. Bernie Webber and a crew of three were given orders by their commander, Daniel Cluff, to brave the furious, frigid sea to rescue the survivors. The year before, Bernie had been in a similar situation when a local fishing boat had taken on water during a vicious winter storm, but because he could not make it over the “bar,” the crew died. With his orders, Bernie was faced with that reminder near the anniversary of that tragic event, on top of just getting engaged to his sweetheart, Merriam. “It was a suicide mission,” said Casey Sherman, co-author of a book that shares its title with the movie Disney made because of it.


Once out at sea, his first struggle was getting over the massive waves of the bar crashing against each other as they went in and out with the tide. Bernie had to overcome the obstacle that had stopped him before. During his war through the bar, he lost the ship’s compass and the cover at the helm, and the panel of the window in front of him had broken. They were then faced with the choice of returning back to the Coast Guard base, once they realized that the radio was not transmitting their hails. Bernie, the captain, decided to head blindly forward into the raging ocean in hopes of finding the Pendleton crew.

This is a story of a day in history when people gathered their courage, strength, and will to achieve the improbable. “The Finest Hours” will have you on the edge of your seat, as you watch the struggle of the men fighting to survive and rescue each other. In an interview with CBS News, Officer-in-Charge and long time friend of the late Bernie Webber, Corbin Ross stated, “This is the greatest small-boat rescue the Coast Guard has seen, ever.”


If you are looking for an action film this week or simply looking for an underdog to cheer for then try “The Finest Hours,” and see if you can weather the storm.


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