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February 7, 2013

Ceremony remembers pilot boat crew lost 35 years ago

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — 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., 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.

The Greek tanker Global Hope was apparently foundering on Salem Sound, and its would-be rescuer, a Coast Guard motor life boat, was also in trouble. Both would survive, but as the fury of the storm increased the Can Do would be lost with all hands: Quirk, Charlie Bucko, Norman Curley, Kenneth Fuller Jr. and Donald Wilkinson.

Their willingness to risk their lives for others was remembered Wednesday at 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 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 Feb. 6, 1978. He’d been sent out aboard a 41-foot Coast Guard utility boat to try to rescue the rescuers.

“We didn’t make it very far,” he told a reporter, 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.”

In the Coast Guard station's mess room, Stevens looked out to where a life preserver from the Can Do hangs on the wall. “You think about it every year at this time,” he said. “It’s always there. Charlie Bucko taught me how to run a Coast Guard boat.”

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