Last Night, my wife and I went to the local theater to see The Finest Hours. One of the greatest Coast Guard rescue attempts in history. Watching the film, we both wondered if the rescue team would get there in time, or if the men on the sinking oil tanker died. Wondered if the guys on the rescue boat came back alive, or did they drown in the sea.
I was in the Army for 24 years. My dad and brother were career Navy guys. All three of my sons are in the military (Army & Navy). So I have an appreciation for those who serve in all branches of the Armed Forces. I understand the dangers they face, and their willingness to risk their lives for their country. But on a more personal note, their willingness to risk their lives for people day in and day out – not only during war, but many other dangerous circumstances we sometimes find ourselves in.
I like watching films about the risks people take to help others. I appreciate the men and women in our police and fire departments, ambulance drivers and EMTs, and others who face danger in order to save others.
Watching this film made me proud of the people in the U.S. Coast Guard.
If you haven’t yet seen it yet, but you plan to watch it, STOP READING RIGHT NOW. Because I want to comment on a deeply significant aspect of the story.
SPOILER ALERT. SPOILER ALERT. SPOILER ALERT.
OK. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
IF YOU’RE STILL READING, DON’T BLAME ME.
In order for the rescue to even happen, there were at least three independent bold decisions that had to be made. Maybe more.
The first was made by Mr. Sybert on the damaged, about-to-sink tanker. Suddenly finding himself to be the ranking crew member, he made a gutsy decision and destroyed the life boat the other men were about to climb into. They hated him for that, but he knew the roiling sea would destroy that lifeboat and that the men would drown long before the rescue effort arrived
The next daring decision was made by Warrant Officer Cluff, the guy in charge of the Chatham Coast Guard Station. When nobody thought it even possible for the mission to succeed, he ordered his crew to go out in the worst storm on record, find the sinking ship, and come home with the survivors. His own crew and all the townspeople thought he was a fool.
And the third was by Webber himself, the Coastguardsman who led the rescue operation. The odds and the storm were against him. The raging waves nearly destroyed the boat. His mates urged him to turn around. But he made the bold decision to keep going.
You’ll have to watch the movie, read the book, or search online to see how it ended. But what fascinates me is our interconnectedness as human beings. Three men made decisions that directly impacted the others. If any one of the three had acted differently, there would be no rescue, no hero, no story. Nobody would have blamed them for taking the safer course of action. Nobody would say they were wrong if they played it safe.
But thirty-two more men would have died. Thirty-two more families devastated by loss. And those three men would have lived out the remainder of their lives wondering what if.