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February 7, 2013

Remembering the Can Do

Tribute recalls Blizzard of '78 tragedy

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, Captain Frank Quirk Jr. of the pilot boat Can Do, out of Gloucester Harbor, answered a distress call, leading his four-man crew into the teeth of the storm.

They were volunteers, doing what they’d done many times before — attempting to aid fellow sailors in trouble.

Both boats in distress — 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 — Quirk, Charlie Bucko, Norman Curley, Kenneth Fuller Jr. and Donald Wilkinson.

The willingness of those men to risk their lives for others was remembered Wednesday in a solemn ceremony at the boat hanger of Coast Guard Station Gloucester on Harbor Loop, where up to 60 people — including nearly two dozen Coast Guardsmen at attention and 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,” Station Gloucester Commander Luis Munoz 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 said, 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.”

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