Saving lives is a family tradition

Conducting rescue operations at sea is a long family tradition for Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Stuart Bangs, a boatswain’s mate serving at Coast Guard Station Point Allerton in Hull, Massachusetts. His cousin, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Donald Bangs, took part in the legendary rescue of dozens of crewmembers from two sinking tankers, the Pendleton and Fort Mercer, that occurred off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts, during a blizzard in February of 1952. The rescue was the focus of a best-selling book and recently released motion picture, The Finest Hours.

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Written by coast Guard Auxiliarist Reid Oslin

Conducting rescue operations at sea is a long family tradition for Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Stuart Bangs, a boatswain’s mate serving at Coast Guard Station Point Allerton in Hull, Massachusetts.

Just over a month ago, Stuart was in command of the first Coast Guard boat to respond to the passenger vessel Majesty when the charter boat with 152 persons aboard went aground in Boston Harbor. With assistance from several state and local maritime agencies, all passengers and crew were safely removed from the vessel that was stricken off George’s Island.

His skills on the water are not surprising, as Stuart comes from a long line of maritime lifesavers.

Fort Mercer tanker. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Fort Mercer tanker. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

His cousin, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Donald Bangs, took part in the legendary rescue of dozens of crewmembers from two sinking tankers, the Pendleton and Fort Mercer, that occurred off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts, during a blizzard in February of 1952. The rescue was the focus of a best-selling book and recently released motion picture, The Finest Hours. At the time, Donald was the executive petty officer of Station Chatham.

Stuart said that Donald was inaccurately portrayed in the movie as being reticent to send a rescue boat out to the stricken tankers in the midst of the raging storm.

“He kind of got some rough treatment in the movie,” Stuart said. “But, by all accounts he was a really decent guy. The movie made him out to be a hard-liner, but from everything I have read, he had a very good relationship with the crew.”

Donald was the coxswain of a 36-foot lifeboat that went out of Stage Harbor to help that night.

“He wound up finding bow section of the Fort Mercer. There was one person still alive aboard, but he drowned before they could get to him,” said Stuart. “That stayed with Chief Bangs for the rest of his life. He got sent out in same conditions as the other boat, but his crew did not come back with anyone. It was a hard thing.”

Photo Reproduction courtesy of Sandy and Pete Howerton.
Photo Reproduction courtesy of Sandy and Pete Howerton.

For Donald and his crew’s efforts, they were awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, one of the most prestigious awards in the Coast Guard.

Other members of the Bangs family served in the Coast Guard in both World War I and World War II and took part in numerous wartime maritime operations.

Stuart’s father, Paul Bangs, was a commercial fisherman for many years before switching to the commercial towing trade. He is now captain of the tugboat Sirius, a maritime icon in Vineyard Haven Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard.

So there was little wonder when young Stuart Bangs, who was born on Martha’s Vineyard and raised in Edgartown, followed in his family’s sea-going tradition.

“I grew up with the ocean,” Stuart said. “I’m a fourth-generation islander and our family has been on and around Cape Cod pretty much since the 1600’s.”

After graduating from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Stuart attended Suffolk University in Boston where he earned a double degree in American history and government, thinking he would start a teaching career.

“I tried a few different jobs,” he explained, “but I kept getting drawn back to the water.”

Stuart worked as a deckhand on his father’s tugboat, delivering fuel, building supplies and other items from New Bedford to the Vineyard, Nantucket and Cuttyhunk Islands before looking into the Coast Guard as a career option.

Petty Officer Stuart Bangs was part of a maritime security team during an overseas deployment in 2014. (Courtesy Photo)
Petty Officer Stuart Bangs was part of a maritime security team during an overseas deployment in 2014. (Courtesy Photo)

“I guess I always had the military in the back of my mind and I joined the Coast Guard Reserve in 2010,” he said.

He was assigned to a port security unit at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod and was activated for a series of short deployments before departing for a nine-month overseas tour.

From that point, he switched into the active duty Coast Guard. Stuart and his wife Danielle, an Andover, Massachusetts, native, were delighted when the opportunity arose to serve at Coast Guard Station Point Allerton in Hull starting in August, 2014.

“We could not have been happier,” he said. “Point Allerton has a great crew, I love the station’s search and rescue mission and we love the area. It could not have worked out better for us.”

As a qualified coxswain, Stuart operates the station’s 47-foot and 29-foot rescue boats.

What’s next for Stuart?

Stuart and Danielle Bangs (Courtesy Photo)
Stuart and Danielle Bangs (Courtesy Photo)

“I need to get some sea time to round out my career,” he said. “I would like to be stationed on a cutter for my next assignment. Ideally, I would like a black hull – one of the Coast Guard’s buoy tenders. I would feel right at home there coming from the tugboat.”

Stuart said that he and his wife are expecting their first child by the end of the year.

“We would love to stay in New England, but we are certainly open to seeing other areas of the country, too,” said Stuart. “In the long term, I would eventually like to be in command position, either at sea or ashore. We’ll see where the Coast Guard takes us.”

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