GLOUCESTER — The Bible describes a time when the seas “mount up to the heaven” and then “go down again to the depths.” It was like that 35 years ago in the midst of the Blizzard of ’78.
Nevertheless, Frank Quirk Jr. of Peabody, captain of the pilot boat Can Do out of Gloucester, answered a distress call, leading his four-man crew into the teeth of the storm. Volunteers, they were doing something they’d done many times before, attempting to aid fellow sailors in trouble.
Both the apparently foundering tanker Global Hope and its would-be rescuer, Coast Guard 44 motor life boat, were in trouble on Salem Sound. They would survive, but as the fury of the storm increased, the Can Do would be lost with all hands, including Quirk, Charlie Bucko, Norman Curley, Kenneth Fuller Jr. and Donald Wilkinson.
Their willingness to risk their lives for others was remembered yesterday in a solemn ceremony at the boat hanger of the Gloucester Coast Guard Station. Some 60 people, including nearly two dozen Coast Guardsmen, at attention in crisp dress uniforms, heard a succession of speakers laud the unselfish courage of the Can Do crew.
“The men we honor today are heroes in the true sense of the word,” Luis Munoz, commanding officer at the Coast Guard station, told the gathering. “They put the safety of others before their own.”
These were more than words for someone like Ralph Stevens, 57, of Salisbury, who was a young Coast Guardsman on duty that night. He’d been sent out aboard Coast Guard 41 to try to rescue the rescuers.
“We didn’t make it very far,” he told the News, recalling the 70-foot waves. “We made a four-man decision to turn around and come back. No ifs, ands or buts. If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”