Late in February 1952, a northeaster swept New England with bitter cold, snow and gale force winds. East of Chatham 70-knot winds and 60-foot seas battered merchant vessels as the tankers SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton met the full force of the storm. They both broke in half on the morning of February 19th with 84 half-frozen men marooned on the battered hulks. Four Coast Guardsmen set out from Cape Cod during a fierce storm in a seemingly impossible quest to locate and rescue the crew of the damaged tanker Pendleton. They returned as heroes.
BM1 Bernard C. Webber, coxswain of motor lifeboat CG-36500, from Station Chatham, Massachusetts, and his crew of three headed out over the dreaded Chatham [sand] bars toward the stricken tanker Pendleton. Webber maneuvered the 36-footer under the Pendleton’s stern with expert skill as the tanker’s crew, trapped in the stern section, abandoned the wreck of their ship on a Jacobs ladder and, with the aid Webber’s crew, made their way down and into the Coast Guard motor-lifeboat.
Webber and his crew of three, EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald; SN Richard Livesey; and SN Irving Maske, saved 32 of the 33 Pendleton’s crewmen who were on the stern section of the ship that night. All four Coast Guardsmen were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their heroic actions. Their successful rescue operation has been noted as one of the greatest in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Webber and his men will be honored this month in Chatham, and at Coast Guard First District Headquarters in Boston:
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 1-3pm, U.S. Coast Guard First District Headquarters, Base Boston, 427 Commercial St., Building No. 1 (function hall). Anniversary celebration of the famous Pendleton/Fort Mercer rescues on Feb. 18, 1952, off the coast of Chatham. Among several displays, the event will feature exhibits from the USCG Heritage Museum (Cape Cod) and the U.S. Lightship Museum (LV-112). Open to general public.
Saturday, Feb. 18, 12-4:30pm, Coast Guard Station Chatham, Open House, 60th Anniversary of Pendleton/Fort Mercer Rescues. Guest speakers, imagery, artifacts; meet people involved in the rescues. Open to general public.
Saturday, Feb. 18, 6pm, Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham. Dinner titled “Tales from the Sea.” Dining and lecture on the 60th anniversary of the Pendleton/Fort Mercer rescues. Kicks off with a champagne reception, followed by a sumptuous three-course dinner and lecture by Casey Sherman, co-author of “The Finest Hours,” the story behind the rescue (see book details on our Cape Cod web page) The dinner is $65 per person; reservations required; call 508-945-0096.
For more information about the CG-36500 – the Coast Guard motor-lifeboat that was used that night and its restoration take a look at their web site CG-36500.
U.S. Coast Guard Congressional Gold Life-Saving Medals. To:
Bernard C. Webber
Andrew J. Fitzgerald
Richard P. Livesey
Ervin E. Maske
Awarded 7 May 1952
The Citation: “On 18 February 1952, during a violent winter gale the tanker SS Pendleton broke in two in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Cod, MA. Shortly thereafter, Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat No. CG-36500 with BM1 Bernard C. Webber as officer-in-charge and EN2 (P) Andrew J. Fitzgerald, SN Richard P. Livesey and SN Ervin E. Maske as crewmembers departed the Lifeboat Station to render assistance. The seas were extremely high and rough, with northwest winds between forty and fifty miles per hour. Visibility was poor due to darkness and intermittent snow squalls. After crossing the hazardous Chatham bar, the CG-36500 rounded up to the stern section of the SS Pendleton, where thirty-three survivors were waiting to be rescued. Numerous passes were necessary to take off all the survivors. There was no light except a spotlight on the CG-36500 and, as the SS Pendleton rolled, the CG-36500 darted in and out, sometimes under the bilge keel, taking off a few men each time. Only one man was lost during the rescue operations. Shortly after the last man was taken aboard, and the CG-36500 had gotten underway the stern section of the SS Pendleton capsized. The CG-36500 with crew and thirty-two survivors returned safely to the Chatham Fish Pier.”