Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
On an inky black night in October 2015, an MH-60T Jayhawk aircrew from a forward-operating base at Great Inagua, Bahamas, flew three sorties under night-vision goggles for more than eight hours to rescue all 12 crew from the life raft of the Bolivian-flagged 212-foot supply ship Minouche. Category IV Hurricane Joaquin had whipped up 30-foot seas that shifted cargo, triggered major listing, and caused a loss of propulsion that ultimately sank the Minouche.
Lieutenant Commander Sankey L. Blanton, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired)
In the winter of 1897–98, almost 300 whalers were trapped in Arctic ice near Point Barrow, Alaska. The Revenue Cutter Bear sent officers ashore to drive a reindeer herd nearly 1,500 miles to serve as food for the men on the eight trapped ships. They completed the mission in early March, walking most of the way in temperatures as low as -45 degrees Fahrenheit. Those officers included Second Lieutenant Ellsworth P. Bertholf, who would later become Commandant of the Coast Guard in 1915.
Admiral Thad W. Allen, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
The rescue of 32 of 41 crew from the tanker SS Pendleton by surf boat from Chatham, Massachusetts, in 1952 (small boat); the evacuation of all 520 passengers and crew from the sinking cruise ship Prinsendam in 1980 (multi-unit); the rescue of 42 of 47 crew of the Alaska Ranger by two helicopters in 2008 (aviation); the rescue of all 31 passenger on ditched Pan Am Flight 6 by the USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC-70) in 1956 (large cutter); and the rescue of more than 33,000 following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (greatest of all).
Captain Bill Travis, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
An incredible Coast Guard maritime rescue occurred in December 1984. The crew of USCGC Sea Hawk (WSES-2) saved 265 Haitian migrants from their sinking sailboat, which was trapped in a maze of coral heads with a storm bearing down. This rescue is a key vignette in Jim Howe’s excellent book Red Crew (Naval Institute Press, 2018).
Scott T. Price, Chief Historian, U.S. Coast Guard
The rescue operations of the USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166) and Coast Guard aircraft during the famous “Perfect Storm” of 1991. In aircraft and an antiquated cutter in the worst flying and sea conditions imaginable, these Coasties demonstrated bravery and excellent seamanship and airmanship skills. The way then-Commander Larry Brudnicki and his crew maneuvered the Tamaroa was amazing. More Coast Guard Medals were awarded for this search and rescue operation than for any other.
Allen W. Penn, U.S. Coast Guard Veteran and Marine Safety Expert
The rescue of all 520 passengers and crew from the cruise ship MS Prinsendam in early October 1980. Working with the U.S. and Royal Canadian Air Forces, the Coast Guard cutters USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719), Mellon (WHEC-717), and Woodrush (WLB-407) traveled more than 100 miles to accomplish a rescue in steadily deteriorating weather conditions.
Carl Nawrocki, U.S. Coast Guard Veteran
The rescues of countless people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, was the largest and greatest rescue put forth by the Coast Guard. I had the good fortune to attend a lecture and speak with a coxswain of a 40-footer who was in New Orleans. Every morning after they fueled up, their orders were to go out and save people. They did, by the hundreds.
Michael Tougias, Coauthor of The Finest Hours
The greatest was the 1952 tanker SS Pendleton rescue where skipper Bernie Webbers saved 32 out of 41 sailors in a 36-foot boat far smaller than the waves off Cape Cod. A close second is what a Coast Guard rescue swimmer and helicopter crew did in the Gulf Stream in 2007. Three survivors were in a tattered life raft in sustained seas of 70–80 feet. Imagine putting down a rescue swimmer in that mess and hoisting the three survivors during hurricane force winds!
Commander Gary Kosciusko, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
In 1897, the Revenue Cutter Bear staged a combined maritime-overland expedition to aid whaling ships trapped in ice near Point Barrow, Alaska. The overland team, comprised of two officers from the Bear and a U.S. Public Health Service surgeon, traveled 1,500 miles by dog-sled in mid-winter to deliver food and hope to the starving mariners, with no loss of human life.
The rescue of the SS Pendleton crew on 18 February 1952 off Cape Cod by Chatham Coast Guard Station four-man crew of Coast Guard rescue boat 36500.
Captain Jim Howe, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
Perhaps the highest-speed heavy weather surface rescue occurred in January 1989, when the 110-foot cutter USCGC Metompkin (WPB-1325) saved the crew of a swamped fishing vessel 140 miles off Charleston, South Carolina. The Metompkin averaged 31 knots, racing through 20- to 25-foot seas to pluck the fishermen from their life raft with no injuries.
Commander Brian Thomas, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The response to the 28 January 1986 loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I was the operations officer on board the USS Simpson (FFG-56) when the ship was placed under the operational control of the USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716), the on-scene commander. The Coast Guard proved what they do best—coordinating multiple ships and aircraft to ensure recovery of the shuttle.
George W. Walker, USNI Life Member
In 1956, the USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC-70) was on Ocean Station November in the Pacific when a Pan American aircraft radioed it was losing power and would have to ditch. After careful coordination and preparation including the cutter laying down a foam landing lane on the calm ocean surface, the low-wing Boeing Stratocruiser made a successful water ditching near the ship and all 31 people onboard were rescued.
The Honorable John G. Ingram, Retired Justice, New York Supreme Court; Retired Navy Captain
The U.S. Coast Guard from Juneau, Alaska, in October 1980 to rescue 530 passengers and crew of MV Prinsendam, which had an engine room fire and sank. The USCGC Boutwell and Mellon and the U.S. flagged tanker Williamsburg assisted in the rescue 120 miles south of Yakut, Alaska.
John P. Dineen, Navy Veteran and Retired New York Police Officer
The Coast Guard’s actions on 9/11 coordinating the rescue and transport of more than 500,000 people from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Staten Island, and points in New Jersey. All done without one serious injury and while bringing first responders to lower Manhattan. Out of darkness came light as they charged into the storm.
Commander John M. McGrail, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The rescue by a 36-foot motor lifeboat of 32 crew from the tanker SS Pendleton, which had broken in half south of Cape Cod during a powerful nor’easter on 18 February 1952. The coxswain was BM1 Bernard Webber and his three crewmen were EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald, SN Richard Livesey, and SN Ervin Maske.
The rescue of the cruise ship MS Prinsendam. On 4 October 1980, more than 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Alaska, an engine room fire quickly grew out of control. The Coast Guard mobilized multiple forces to successfully rescue more than 500 passengers and crew, with no deaths or serious injuries, before the ship sank.
Ron West, Former coxswain, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Golden Life Member
In February 1952, the crew of a 36-foot motor lifeboat rescued 32 seamen from the SS Pendleton that had broken in half off Cape Cod during hurricane-force weather. Bernie Webber, Richard Livesey, Andy Fitzgerald, and Ervin Maske all received the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
Colonel Mark A. Olinger, U.S. Army (Retired)
The 4 October 1980 rescue of the passengers and crew of the MS Prinsendam. The Holland-America cruise ship caught fire and later sank 120 miles south of Yakutat, Alaska. The rescue is important because of the distance traveled by Coast Guard and Canadian helicopters, and the cutters USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719), Mellon (WHEC-717), and Woodrush (WLB-407). All 520 passengers and crew were rescued.
Richard Walton, USNI Life Member
The successful rescue of 32 crew from the sinking tanker SS Pendleton off Cape Cod on 18 February 1952 by motor lifeboat CG 36500 at night during a northeaster with 70 mph winds and snow, instruments out, by Boatswain’s Mate Bernard Webber. The Coast Guard awarded the crew the Gold Lifesaving Medal.