The SS Pendleton Rescue
It’s been called “The US Coast Guard’s Most Daring Rescue” and, when you learn just how audacious it was, it’s impossible to argue otherwise. Of course, the brave men and women of the Coast Guard routinely risk their lives to save others. But when they set out to save the crew of the SS Pendleton in February of 1952, they really went above and beyond the call of duty. Against the odds, the rescue mission was a huge success, saving more than 30 sailors from a watery grave.
The SS Pendleton was a huge tanker – a Type T2-SE-A1 – built in Portland in 1944. After a few years toiling for the American government, she was sold to the private National Bulk Carriers in 1948. Despite the fact that T2 ships had earned a reputation for breaking in two in cold temperatures, she remained in service and, at the start of 1952, she was in active service, running between New Orleans and Boston. On 18 February, the crew of the SS Pendleton ran into trouble. They hot a strong gale just south of Cape Cod. Before long, they were in serious trouble. They called the Coast Guard.
A plane was sent to look for the SS Pendleton. Shockingly, the pilot reported that he had found the stricken vessel – and that she had split in two, with both parts in danger of going under. With no time to lose, the Coast Guard sent a ship, the CG 36500 to the rescue. Its captain, Bernard Webber, soon encountered problems of his own. They hit huge waves as they went over the sandbar protecting the Massachusetts harbour. While the crew were safe, the damage knocked out the ship’s compass. They were going to have to find the stricken SS Pendleton without their main navigational aid.
Against the odds, they found the stern section, with 33 of the crew of 41 on it. The massive bulk was rocking back and forth in the huge waves. Webber knew that pulling up alongside it would be suicidal. But still, he wouldn’t give up. Timing it perfectly against the rise and fall of the waves, Webber shuttled his boat as close to the SS Pendleton as he could. The crew also timed their descent down rope ladders and, one at a time, jumped onto the rescue craft. Just one man – the ship’s cook – didn’t make it, falling into the ocean and drowning. With the crew all on board, Webber then fought Mother Nature again to make it back to shore.
For their efforts, Webber and his crew of three were awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal, the service’s highest honor. The daring rescue has since inspired a book and a Hollywood movie. Webber would go on to serve in the Vietnam War and died a hero in 2009.