Searchers saved local boys from icy fate

Back in the Day

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Seven members of the Civilian Conservation Corps decided to take a walk along Cape Cod Bay in Brewster, Massachusetts, on Feb. 11, 1936. Suddenly, the ice beneath their feet split, sending a quarter-mile stretch of frozen water sailing out to sea with the boys upon it. The group of young men included two West Warwick teenagers, Manuel Joseph Botello and Anthony Ray.

Botello was the 19-year-old son of the late Manuel Botello and his wife Mary, both natives of the Azores. Ray was the 19-year-old son of John Gomes Ray and Mary (Jose), also natives of Portugal.

The other men were Albert Papa, Norman Beaulieu, John Fitzsimmons, Thomas Malone and Nicholas Scunzio.

As the temperature dropped below zero, the boys endured the next 22 hours, drifting further from land. Captain Fedderson of the Coast Guard spent the night out searching for the boys aboard the rescue boat Harriet Lane, a 125-foot patrol boat that had originally been constructed in 1926 to catch rum smugglers in Massachusetts waters.

Army Air Corps pilot William Wincapaw also spent hours searching for the boys in the dark. Neither he nor Fedderson had any luck.

None of the seven believed they would survive, and one even began talking about committing suicide rather than endure the cold and fear any longer.

The following day, Wincapaw spotted two separate ice floes about a mile apart, six miles off the coast of Brewster. From his plane, he could see figures huddled together on each one. He notified Fedderson who desperately searched the bay without the help of buoys, which were below the frozen water. Wincapaw decided to help guide Fedderson and his 20-man crew toward the boys.

One floe held five boys and the other held two. Upon sighting the plane, all seven attempted to stand up and wave their arms, but continuously slipped on their icy foundations and fell.

When the Harriet Lane became stuck in thick ice, a crewmember got out and pushed a small boat across frozen water to rescue the men. After pulling Scunzio, Malone, Ray and Botello to safety, the boat became stuck again and used TNT to free itself, shattering windows and cabin interiors.

A waiting ambulance transported the men to the hospital, where they were all found to be in a stunned state, suffering the effects of exposure and exhaustion. Two were badly frostbitten, including Fitzsimmons, who had severely frozen feet. Physicians determined that while all needed a period of rest, none would suffer any permanent injuries.

Botello went back home to his mother on Main Street in West Warwick and later obtained employment as a dryer in a lace mill. He enlisted in the Army in December of 1942 and married Lillian Rathbun. He passed away on Jan. 29, 1970, and was laid to rest in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery in Coventry.

Ray returned to the home he shared on Aberdeen Street in West Warwick with his parents and numerous siblings. He was employed at Harris Mill before enlisting in the Army in March of 1941. He married Cecile Valerien and passed away on Oct. 15, 1993.

The boat that saved their lives, the Harriet Lane, was decommissioned in 1946.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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