Terry Strauss director of …As If They Were Angels Image

Terry Strauss director of …As If They Were Angels

By Tiffany Tchobanian | October 8, 2018

…As If They Were Angels tells a harrowing historical story that most Americans have shockingly never heard before. On February 18, 1942, the US Navy suffered one of its greatest non-combat casualties losing 203 young sailors in two shipwrecks on the icy coast of Newfoundland. Filmmaker Terry Strauss’ father, Henry “Hank” Strauss, was one of the 186 survivors who lived to tell a tale that was covered up by the Navy during wartime. After watching this touching and illuminating documentary, I feel that this story of heartwarming heroism needs to be heard now more than ever before.

In my enlightening interview with Strauss, we discussed what she learned while making this film over the past 30 years. We addressed the Navy’s embarrassment over the disaster and their appreciation to the rescuers. We also marvel over the way the current young generation of Newfoundlanders pays its respect to those sailors and rescuers.

Before jumping into our chat, here are a few things you should know about the extraordinary event.  The USS Pollux was carrying supplies from Maine to a US Naval base in Argentia, Newfoundland. It was accompanied by the USS Truxtun (an older WWI vessel) and the USS Wilx (a flagship with new radar navigation) for guidance protection. In the midst of a ruthless storm, they tentatively traveled through German “wolfpack” territory. As Mother Nature roared, the USS Pollux and Truxtun crashed into the rocky cliffs of Newfoundland’s frosty coast. It would take a miracle to save these stranded souls.

Most of the young sailors died trying to swim ashore through crude oil and freezing temperatures. Against all odds, a couple of men succeeded as they climbed up the frozen cliffs and were fortunate enough to stumble upon two compassionate communities known as Lawn and St. Lawerence. Comprised mostly miners and fisherman, its citizens were determined to save as many lives as possible. These families took wounded Americans into their homes and cared for them until help arrived from the Navy. In 1988, the American survivors returned to Newfoundland and reunited with their rescuers. It was at this reunion where Strauss began filming her emotional and eye-opening documentary, …As If They Were Angels.

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  1. Ann Petrie says:

    My husband’s dad was on USS Wilkes that ran aground. Can I buy a CD or DVD of this documentary or this production from you? FYI we visited the sites of the events, including St. Lawrence, and Lawn, where we spoke to families of survivors. My husband left a copy of his work “A Sailor’s Son”, which describes these events from what his father told him. at the museum.

  2. Molly Brockerville-Wall says:

    Would love to see this.

  3. Cyril Tarrant says:

    My Father was Patrick Tarrant and he was part of the rescue of all those young men so long ago. This story is now part of the DNA of everyone in Lawn and St Lawrence. One point I need to make is that my Father said time and time again that the greatest hero was Henry Lambert. He wanted the world to know that. He said that if one medal was to be awarded it should go to Henry Lambert. God bless you Henry.

  4. Cyril Tarrant says:

    A terrific film indeed. Where and when can I see it again?

  5. Marie Mazure says:

    As a person born in Newfoundland in 1946 three years prior to confederation, the first thing that I noticed in the article pertaining to ‘As If They Were Angels’ was the reference to a Canadian rescue. This was not a Canadian rescue as Newfoundland was not a Canadian province at this time, and did not become part of Canada until 1949.
    Some years ago this story became familiar to Canadians when CBC produced a radio documentary that lauded the late Lanier Phillips. He was one of the young men first rescued from the disaster. In the documentary, he recounted his story of rescue and the great difference the way he was treated by the people of St. Lawrence, changed his life. To show his gratitude to the people of the community throughout his life Mr. Phillips showed his gratitude by gfting the community as he was able.

  6. MaryEllen Yetman says:

    Hi – can you tell me if the film will be played in Massachusetts, my father and I would love to see it.

  7. James D. Edwards says:

    My Uncle, James D. Edwards was on the Pollux and died in an attempt to swim to shore. Hid best friend, Frank Buck was the illustrator for the Pollux Piper newsletter and survived the wreck. Frank provided my family with the details of mu Uncle’s circumstance and death. My Uncle was in the crow’s nest on the Pollux when it hit. My son, brother in law and I just returned from visiting St. Lawrence and Lawn. I look forward to seeing your film. Please give me the dates and location in Indianapolis where I understand it will be shown later this month.

    • Margaret Isaacs says:

      Hi James it was so nice to meet you & you son & friend at our Room Of Remembrance in Lawn.I hope I portrayed their story as we know it,hopefully you will get to see Terry’s documentary it is awesome..sad but it needed to be told to others.can you tell me who you said illustrated the Thanksgiving & Christmas menu of 1941. margisaacs@hotmail.com

  8. Suzane Wilbur says:

    My Dad’s cousin, Perique Daniel Gomez, was serving on the Pollux when it wrecked. He died and his body was found 40 miles away from the wreck by a man named Cyrus Hilliard. Because of an ID bracelet he wore, Daniel’s body was identified and his parents, my Aunt Kate and Uncle Pete, were contacted. The wonderful people of Lawn buried Daniel in a church yard until our family could bring him home many years later. I grew up knowing the story of Daniel and the people of Lawn. In 2017, my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend the 75th memorial service on the cliffs.

  9. Fred Benson says:

    My mother’s cousin, William (Billy) DeRosa, was on the Pollux. He was one of the first to reach shore and scale the cliffs looking for help. He died before he got to the help. His story, like those of the rest of his shipmates, is told in Standing Into Danger. I would very much like to get a copy of this film when it is available. In the meantime, what other film festivals is it scheduled to play at?

  10. Kathy Rooker Wynn says:

    My uncle was Stanley Irvin Rooker, Fireman 3rd Class on the USS Truxtun. He did not survive and it wasn’t until a friend saw the book “Standing Into Danger” and gave my dad a copy that we really knew what happened.
    We have been to St. Lawrence and agree that they are all wonderful people. We will always love them!
    If there are any survivor family members who know if their loved one was a friend of Stanley’s we would love to be in contact with them.
    Thank you so much, Terry Strauss! I would love to know where I could see the documentary or purchase a copy.

  11. Darlane Brockerville says:

    Wow, I never knew this fact Della. Your father was a true hero too.

  12. Darlane Brockerville says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing this film at the school in Lawn yesterday. I loved every minute of it. Great job Terry. It was so nice to meet you and your lovely sister Jan.

  13. How can I get to see this film and when?

  14. Jacqueline Molloy says:

    I am the young girl just 16 at the time of the reunion in 1988 and I had the honour of introducing your dad at a gathering for the survivors. I have known this story and remembered this date my whole life and even as an adult I reflect upon it every year. I am thankful that you have bought your story to the forefront and now have the media for more attention

  15. Della Manning says:

    My dad, Leo Manning, was just 18 years old at the time. When word of the sinking ships arrived in Lawn that night, he was one of the young men who made it to Chambers Cove to help the young sailors at the bottom of the cliffs. He made it down by ropes to help others make it up the cliffs to safety. He was almost left at the bottom of the beach when it was thought they had all of the survivors
    up top. He never spoke of this incident until many years later when the first book was written. He had mentioned it to his younger brother, Andrew, who told me about how brave my dad was during a visit to Lawn. He wouldn’t go into too much detail because he said my dad had said anyone would have done what he did if they were there. He didn’t consider himself a hero at all.

  16. Derek Brown says:

    I’m the son of Cassie Brown who wrote the book “Standing into Danger”. During the period the book was written, which spanned a period of about 5 years, I travelled with Cassie to St. Lawrence several times to help her photograph the scenes of both wrecks. I also attended the 1997 Skype session referred to in the interview, and afterwords a Ms. White approached me and told me that as a teenager, the summer following the disaster she and some friends walked to Chambers Cove and discovered the stoney beach to be littered with human bones. Not knowing what to do they set about burying the bones under the stones on the beach.
    On one of the early visits we went to site of of the Pollux grounding, walking around I found a twisted up soup spoon stamped with the letters USN. I recently gave the spoon to Terry, as I believe she should be the keeper of the relic.
    Needless to say, the story of the Pollux and Truxton has impacted me greatly.

    • Rhea Campbell says:

      Loved the book Standing Into Danger. I am the granddaughter of Clara and Patrick Tarrant from St. Lawrence. My Nannie and Pappy saved lives that day. They make us all proud!

  17. Tina Lambert says:

    Would love a copy I am married to Henry Lambert’s son Rick

    • Chris Gore says:

      I believe the film is still on its festival run. It made its premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival. I do not have any firm release details at this time.

  18. Bill & Dona Molloy says:

    My family had the pleasure of hosting the American survivors to a fish & Lobster dinner. They were all so friendly & thankful. I have som pictures from their first reunion. I would love to see this. . Also our daughter had the honour of introducing Mr. Strauss at an event where he spoke. I still have her introduction cards she used to read from. He in return sent her a Memory Album which she still has and is full. Very important story to be told to the world !!

  19. Frank Harris says:

    I am married to Leah Lambert, she is Henry Lamberts daughter, one of the main people involved in the rescue of the sailors. My wife would like a copy of the movie and I was wondering where I could get a copy.

  20. Leonard Slaney says:

    I am so looking forward to seeing this film, “As If They Were Angels”, directed, written and produced by Terry Strauss, daughter of USS POLLUX survivor, Henry “Hank” Strauss. I co-chaired the first St. Lawrence Homecoming in 1988 and not only were we determined to bring home our beloved Laurentians but to reconnect with the American survivors of the 1942 disaster of the grounding of two American ships – the USS POLLUX and the USS TRUXTUN on the icy cliffs of Chambers Cove and Lawn Point, between the towns of St. Lawrence and Lawn, on the south coast of Newfoundland. That reconnect lead to cementing a relationship between the survivors and the townspeople of St. Lawrence and Lawn – a bond that will never be broken. Thank you, Terry Strauss, for your steadfast determination see this film production come alive. The story of the heroic rescuers and survivors of that fateful day, February 18, 1942, will be now forever recorded in the annuals of time in film.

    • Jane Avery says:

      I have been trying to see this film for years and it keeps eluding me. I missed it the couple times it had viewings near me and I didn’t even know it aired on the documentary channel last month until it was over. Has anyone found where we could purchase a copy? I have close ties to this tragedy and am begging for any information on how to purchase a copy!

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