One of the greatest Coast Guard rescues to be celebrated

| August 9, 2018

Coast Guard

The Navy Times reports that, beginning Aug. 13, the historical association is planning five days of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Mirlo rescue — one of the most daring in Coast Guard history.

Mirlo, a British tanker loaded with gasoline was torpedoed seven miles off the shore from Chicamacomico, North Carolina. The badly needed fuel was headed for England in support of it’s forces in Europe during WW-1.

The six-man U.S. Coast Guard lifesaving crew in Rodanthe led by Capt. John Allen Midgette Jr. pulled the surf boat from its shed to begin what would be a seven-hour rescue.

“We call that boat the seventh hero,” said Ralph Buxton, a board member with the Chicamacomico Historical Association, pointing to the 26-foot wooden vessel that still sits at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. “It performed perfectly that day.”

Beginning Aug. 13, the historical association is planning five days of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Mirlo rescue — one of the most daring in Coast Guard history.

In earlier years, the crew had to row to foundering ships. But on that day in 1918, they turned to a boat with the latest 12-horsepower motor, Buxton said.

“That made a huge difference,” he said. “The motorized surf boats were state-of-the-art technology then.”

surf boat

The crew launched it into 15-foot waves coming one set after another. It took four tries to get past the massive breakers.

“That was like a semitruck coming at you at 30 miles an hour and another one coming just eight seconds after that,” said Carl Smith, retired Coast Guard officer and a board member of the historical association.

The crew motored toward the tanker, now split in two from multiple explosions. The water was on fire with burning fuel. Midgette and his men maneuvered through flames as the heat charred the paint on the boat and singed the men’s hair.

One lifeboat and the captain’s gig were launched with several tanker crew members aboard. A second lifeboat overturned, leaving men hanging on in the burning waters.

Midgette first brought those men aboard his boat and then helped bring the other boats closer to shore. The surf boat safely unloaded its cargo of survivors, then made three more trips to get the others in the boats beyond the breakers. The crew rescued 42 of 51 aboard the Mirlo.

Midgette later recorded in the log, “Crew very tired.”

Always Prepared- Semper Paratus is the official motto of the US Coast Guard. The unofficial motto is, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” It’s as true today as it was in 1918.

Category: Coast Guard, Search and Rescue

Comments (36)

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  1. FatCircles0311 says:

    You got it mixed up with the marines. Coast guard is “always ready”. I’ll let it slide this time. 😂

  2. HMC Ret says:

    Some acts of heroism are almost beyond belief. If this story had begun with “you ain’t gonna believe this shit” it would have passed muster as bogus. Heroism was the norm on that day.

  3. 26Limabeans says:

    “surf boat”

    Nowadays that is a lunch platter that mom brings as you surf the internet in her basement.

  4. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    The lifesaving crew were: John Midgett, Leroy Midgett, Zion Midgett, Clarence Midgett, Arthur Midgett, and Prochorous L. O’Neil. How O’Neil got in there is anyone’s guess. The mind boggles with midget jokes. As for the rescue, they done good, but five days of events sounds like nothing more than a tourist attraction. Hell, that’s five times as long as we celebrate Independence Day. The US gave them each a medal 13 years later. The Brits were more prompt, awarding gold lifesaving medals in 1921.

    • Tom Huxton says:

      Lucky to have so many Midgetts aboard. (increases cargo space)

    • Tallywhagger says:

      When I first started going to the Outer Banks, around the mid-60s, the Midgette family owned just about everything there was. There wasn’t much out there but it was delightful because of it.

      Chances are that the Midgette folks made a lot of money as the OB became gentrified.

      The rescue is one hell of a story of valor! Until today, I have been unaware that the rescue had occurred.

      • CCO says:

        I can’t remember if the guy I had my one ROTC class with was a “Midgette” or a “Midyette.” His father had been a fisherman and was lost at see.

      • Bill M says:

        The Midgette family has a long history with the Coast Guard and the Outer Banks. An excellent book regarding shipwrecks on the Outer Banks is Graveyard of the Atlantic by David Stick. There are a number of Midgettes who distinguished themselves rescuing seamen stranded on the sandbanks off the North Carolina coast.

  5. 5th/77thFA says:

    Not a Sailor, 7 miles out, going into 15′ seas with a 12 horse motor? Where is a picture of the vessel those fellows transported their big brass ones in? The surf boat doesn’t look big enough for them and their ‘nads. Oh, and BTW, it’s a gas tanker with the water on fire. BZ

    • SFC D says:

      That boat must’ve sat low in the water, carrying all that brass. CLANG!

    • Mason says:

      Ain’t that the truth. Who can imagine going out (repeatedly no less!) into 15′ surf in that!?! Even with a new fangled 12hp motor, I think that qualifies as nuts.

      Choppy waters, water literally on fire, and the potential for additional explosions in U-boat infested waters. The brass sets on those guys! That’s a level of bravery that’s hard to fathom.

      Those guys really earned the title of United States Life Saver. Just a few years before, the USCG was formed from the merging of the US Life Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service.

  6. Roger in Republic says:

    There are two classes of WHEC cutters. The secretary class, named for Treasury Secretaries, and the Hero class, named for Coast Guard heroes. One such hero class cutter is the WMEC Midgett. This family has been serving in the CG for generations and they epitomize what it is to be a coastie.

    • 2/17 Air Cav says:

      It seems to me that there’s a story there, yet it goes unmentioned. Midget jokes aside, so many from one family involved in the same noteworthy event is something.

    • rgr1480 says:

      I just read there have been over 200 Midgetts in the USCG!

      …Lew, 86, may be the oldest of more than 200 members of the Midgett family (also spelled Midgette, modern variants of early Midyett) who have served in the U.S. Life Saving Service, U.S. Lighthouse Service and/or U.S. Coast Guard since the late 18th century – a family legacy unprecedented among the armed services of our country….

  7. rgr1480 says:

    The photo in the article is not what Surfboat 1046 looks like:×350.jpeg


    I cannot imagine hitting 15-ft swells with that open boat!

    • AW1Ed says:

      Your Google-fu beats mine, rgr1480.

      • rgr1480 says:

        OOoooohhh …. I thought the photo was supplied by the Navy Times.

        Didn’t mean to “out Google Fu” you, Grasshopper.

        “As quickly as you can
        snatch the photo from my hand”
        –Master Poo
        surf boat

    • SFC D says:

      Looks like a stretched-out Mackenzie.

      • rgr1480 says:

        Errrr … no thank you! I’ll *not* go through rapids in a tiny wooden boat, thank you very much.


        For that matter, I’ll not go through 15-foot seas in a 25’8″ surfboat either!

  8. CDR_D says:

    In the early 70s, when I was OPS on the USCGC Midgett (WHEC 726), the CO was somewhat “vertically challenged”. When he would arrive or depart, there would be the standard announcement accompanied by the rings of the bell, “Midgett, arriving (or departing)”. Anyone within earshot who was unfamiliar with the custom would just shake their heads at the supposed disrespect.

  9. Thunderstixx says:

    And to think, the rest of the guys in the Coast Guard still do this stuff on a daily basis. I always said that the Coasties are the really crazy ones in the military, they love this shit !!!
    If you’ve read the book “The Perfect Storm” they go into the details of that storm.
    It was one of the movies that I liked that had George Clooney in it.