Kristi Lagenbacher: ‘The Finest Hours’ retells greatest small boat rescue in CG history

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Over the years, the Coast Guard has been shown in small roles in numerous movies. Several major motion pictures have also featured the Coast Guard, including “The Guardian,” “The Perfect Storm,” and now “The Finest Hours.”

“The Finest Hours” is the most recent major motion picture to feature the Coast Guard in a significant way since “The Guardian,” which was released in 2006. Portions of that movie were filmed at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, and starred Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher in a story about the Coast Guard rescue swimmer training program.

The most recent movie to shine a light on the Coast Guard, “The Finest Hours,” was released this weekend by Walt Disney Pictures. The movie is based on the book, “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue,” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. The film opened the Coronado Island Film Festival on Jan. 15, and was released to the public in several 3D formats on Jan. 29.

The film brings to life the true story of the dramatic rescue of members of the crew of the SS Pendleton in 1952. Coast Guardsmen and volunteers from Chatham Lifeboat Station, now known as Coast Guard Station Chatham, set out to rescue the crew in a 36-foot lifeboat during an epic Nor’easter storm.

The rescue mission took place off the coast of Cape Cod after two oil tankers were split apart by treacherous winter winds and waves. The crew of motor life boat CG 36500 and the crew of a surfboat from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Yakutat heroically rescued nearly all of the tankers’ crewmen.

Shelley Kimball, a Coast Guard spouse and writer, interviewed Jim Whitaker, producer of the movie. Whitaker spoke about making the film, and the incredible selfless nature of the men who risked their lives to rescue others.

Kimball wrote about her interview with Whitaker in the Coast Guard All Hands, the official blog for the Coast Guard workforce.

“We tried really hard to tell a story that I think captures the core values that I perceive to be the values of the Coast Guard: honor, duty and selfless, humble action,” Whitaker told Kimball. “And I think that the film really captures that. It shows that in an authentic way, in its purity. It’s really trying to capture the spirit by which I think the Coast Guard operates on a daily basis.”

To ensure that filmmakers remained faithful to the actual events while telling the compelling story, directors enlisted the support of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Motion Picture & Television Office in Los Angeles. The office helped ensure the actors performed tasks the way the Coast Guard members would have, such as driving the boats in an authentic way.

The office participates in productions that support public awareness, information, and education about the Coast Guard, according to its web site. The Coast Guard also supports entertainment productions that have the potential to enhance recruiting and retention initiatives.

The film’s cast and crew joined men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard on the red carpet for the world premiere of “The Finest Hours” on Jan. 25 in Hollywood. The Honor Guard presented the colors as they marched on the red carpet of the premiere.

The U.S. Coast Guard Band played on the red carpet while they proudly represented the Coast Guard at the premiere. About half of the 55-member band, based in New London, Conn., marched up the red carpet to the famous TCL Chinese Theatre for the film’s premiere.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft also attended the premiere and stood on the red carpet alongside Andy Fitzgerald, a Gold Lifesaving Medal Hero who served with Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard Webber, the inspirational hero depicted in the movie. The two men served together at Coast Guard Station Chatham in February of 1952, during what is often referred to as the greatest small boat rescue in the Coast Guard’s history.

Kristi Langenbacher is a Coast Guard spouse and writes about military family life.

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