Coast Guard Heroes: BM1 Bernard Webber

Jacobs ladder dangling over her side, the stern of the SS Pendleton sits forlornly on a sand bar off the coast of Cape Cod. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

Jacobs ladder dangling over her side, the stern of the SS Pendleton sits forlornly on a sand bar off the coast of Cape Cod. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

It was mid-February 1952 when two World War II-era tankers, SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton, split in half off the coast of Cape Cod during the height of a strong winter storm.

The men on the tankers had little hope that help would come, but it did. While the help came from various motor lifeboat stations, cutters and air assets, one name shines through during this heroic rescue effort: Bernard Webber.

Formal portrait of Petty Officer 1st Class Bernard Webber in 1952. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Formal portrait of Petty Officer 1st Class Bernard Webber in 1952. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Webber, a petty officer 1st class assigned to Coast Guard Station Chatham, Massachusetts, was assigned as the primary coxswain of CG-36500 with the responsibility of choosing a crew to head into the storm to search for survivors from the Pendleton.

Webber and his crew, which consisted of Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Fitzgerald, Seaman Richard Livesay and Seaman Ervin Maske, knew the odds were stacked against them from the onset of the mission.

The 36-foot lifeboat and crew, led by Webber, headed out into the powerful storm to search for survivors. But their journey wouldn’t be easy.

As Webber attempted to navigate the lifeboat over the dangerous Chatham bar, they were met with powerful swells that not only shattered the windshield, they also tore the compass from its mounts.

Discouraged but not defeated, Webber continued to cling to the hope of finding survivors and the devotion to duty engrained within him.

Navigating with only a searchlight, Webber and his crew eventually reached the Pendleton wreckage, and, carefully timing the sea swells, navigated the lifeboat close aboard the stricken vessel to rescue the crewmembers.

Coast Guardsmen from Station Chatham rescue 32 survivors from the SS Pendleton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

Coast Guardsmen from Station Chatham rescue 32 survivors from the SS Pendleton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Richard C. Kelsey.

And one by one, that’s what they did. Webber and his crew rescued 32 of the 33 crewmembers that night.

With the 35 men crammed aboard the 36-foot lifeboat, Webber began the journey back to shore, where they were met by local citizens who had been listening to the story unfold over the radio.

For their heroic actions, Webber and his crew were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, which described the harrowing rescue efforts that night.

“The seas were extremely high and rough, with northwest winds between forty and fifty miles per hour,” the citation reads. “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.”

While the rescued happened more than 50 years ago, the Webber namesake lives on as the Coast Guard’s first Fast Response Cutter, which are named solely after enlisted heroes. Though Webber has passed away, his name and legacy will continue to influence generations of Coast Guard members.

Bernard C. Webber

The Bernard C. Webber, the Coast Guard’s first Sentinel Class fast response cutter will be home-ported in Miami. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Johnson.

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