As If They Were Angels

A deeply layered tale of shipwreck, rescue, a steep loss of life — of courage, sacrifice and human endurance. Meet American soldiers shipwrecked on the rugged cliffs on Newfoundland and the people who rescued them.

February 18, 1942.  Two months after Pearl Harbor and US entry into World War II, a pair of destroyers escorted a supply ship through the treacherous North Atlantic to a base in Argentia, Newfoundland.  Zig-zagging, and under strict radio silence to avoid German U boats, they were hit by a furious winter gale.  Wind whipped waves, snow and ice — combined with the lead ship's communication errors, an officer’s reluctance to trust his experienced navigator, and "newfangled" radar — ran all three ships aground. The lead ship Wilkes broke free, but the USS Pollux and the USS Truxtun broke apart on the rugged cliffs.  Over 200 sailors died that day.  

MORE: 'Heart and risk and sacrifice': Film celebrates sailors' rescue off Newfoundland

Nearly as many were rescued by local miners, fishermen and townspeople from St. Lawrence and Lawn, who risked their own lives in the raging storm to save the American sailors.  Director Terry Strauss, whose father was one of the survivors, plumbs a trove of photographs, documents, drawings, plus her original footage and interviews to recount a moving story of sacrifice, endurance, and heroism.  The film hits an emotional peak with footage of the 1988 reunion between the American survivors and the Newfoundland townspeople who saved and cared for them.  Peter Coyote narrates this remarkable saga with a blend of tender empathy and palpable amazement.  Thirty years in the making, the film resonates today as if the very telling of its deep humanity, offers a lifeline for our fractured times.