In his mid-1950s service aboard LV-101/WAL-524 (today’s Lightship Portsmouth Museum), then known as the Lightship Stonehorse, U.S.C.G. Seaman Ervin Maske probably saw many calm days of service as the lightship quietly marked its station off Cape Cod, MA. However, just before he got there, his experience was anything but calm and quiet.
On February 18, 1952, the twenty-two-year-old Coast Guard seaman from Marinette, Wisconsin was at Coast Guard Station Chatham in Massachusetts awaiting transfer to LV-101 at its Stone Horse Shoal station when a report came into Chatham. Earlier in the day, a World War II vintage T2-SE-A1 tanker, SS Fort Mercer, had split in two during a seventy-knot Nor-Easter and sent out calls for assistance. However, Chatham picked up an odd signal on their radar and diverted a PBY Catalina seaplane to investigate. There it discovered that a second T2-SE-A1, the Pendleton, had broken in two, seemingly lacking the ability to call for help. It was decided that Chatham would send C.G. 36500, a thirty-foot Motor Lifeboat out into the storm with a four-man crew to try and rescue survivors.
C.G. 36500’s coxswain, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard Webber, asked for volunteers to fill the three crew positions on his boat. It was at this point that LV-101’s transient sailor, Ervin E. Maske, spoke up and offered to go. Together the men set out in forty to sixty foot waves on a small wooden boat designed to save twelve men to a shipwreck that would go down in Coast Guard history as one of the service’s most daring rescues.
The Pendleton’s bow section was lost, with the captain and seven crewmen killed. But the stern was still afloat with thirty-three sailors trapped aboard. Braving swells that repeatedly tossed C.G. 36500, shattering glass, the compass, and even killing the engine, the four volunteers were finally able to reach the wreck. The Pendleton’s crew lowered a Jacob’s Ladder over the side of their ship, which was now caught on a sandbar, and waited for the lifeboat to close in.
The distance was constantly changing in the bucking sea, so Seaman Maske and fellow volunteer Andrew Fitzgerald went forward onto C. G. 36500’s bow. As the swells pushed the Lifeboat to its closest point, the trapped sailors jumped one at a time. Maske and Fitzgerald grabbed them as they landed, ushering them back astern as they turned to catch the next man. Of the thirty-three sailors trapped on the stern, only one, cook George ‘Tiny’ Myers, was killed when his jump was mistimed. Now overloaded with four crew and thirty-two survivors, C.G. 36500 turned back into the raging storm and miraculously made its way home to Chatham.