A dramatic shipwreck, a daring rescue
Coast Guard cutter CG36500 sits peacefully in a dock in Cape Cod. Made entirely of wood and just 36 feet long, it is unimpressive to look at. And that’s what makes it so haunting. Earlier this month, a few elderly men - witnesses to one of the most heroic rescues in Massachusetts’ rich maritime history - met me there; some of them, as little boys, had rushed to the docks to meet the tiny cutter when it creaked into harbor, overflowing with exhausted sailors and the heroes who rescued them. It’s been almost exactly 60 years and they’ll never forget the sight. And this weekend, while the rest of America was remembering the great deeds of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Chatham residents gathered to remember those of Coast Guard coxswain Bernard Webber and his crew. On February 18, 1952, at about five in the morning, a 500-foot tank vessel named the Pendleton broke in half off the shores of Chatham, Cape Cod, buffeted by reported 60 foot waves and 70 knot winds. The captain and seven crew members died when the ship’s bow broke off and sank. Thirty-three survivors clung to the wreckage of the stern section, praying for a rescue but realizing, with a sense of dread, that they had failed to get a mayday call out in time.