SAILING UNDER THE BLACK FLAG

By Jack Eckert

Naturally nobody knew anything about the flag because nobody saw nuthin'. But the flag reappeared and disappeared with regularity.

The ships patch and logo for many years was a little cartoon white elephant in a red and white striped bathing suit floating on his back in a typical circle arrangement with USCGC ESCANABA (W-64) printed between the rings. There were a pair of metal replicas of the logo which were from time to time displayed on the exterior of the ship. During the 1961 to 1963 era the Captain and Exec decided the logo was undignified and tried to do away with it. The patches were removed from the ships store and a new rather blah patch replaced it. The remaining officers and crew liked the "cartoon white elephant" so the logo refused to die.

There was also a black flag showing the little white elephant running and raising a little dust. Nobody, most of all the two senior officers, had any idea where this flag was kept but it seemed to be pulled up on the yardarm by the "skivy wavers" at the most opportune times, usually when a mission was done and the ESCANABA was heading home to New Bedford. It would only fly for ten or fifteen minutes at a time and would then disappear until the next occasion presented itself. The Captain was always on the Bridge paying attention to the ship and the Exec was usually in CIC, out of the way and out of the Captains hair. This was easy to do because the Captain was a large bald man who shaved his head. These officers would only find out the flag had been hoisted after it was pulled and rehidden.

Naturally nobody knew anything about the flag because nobody saw nuthin'. But the flag reappeared and disappeared with regularity.

The topic of the "cursed" flag which embarrassed the Captain was often on the agenda for the Wardroom meals after all of the Officers were seated and were a captive audience. The Exec asked all of the officers conducting the routine weekly zone inspections to be on the look out for the flag and confiscate it if it was found. It was never found during zone inspections.

Things came to a head when the ESCANABA completed successful fleet training at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo.) Everybody was glad the ordeal was over, the ship was heading home, the black flag was broken on the yardarm and morale was as high as would ever be on that ship. The Captain got a radio message from the Navy Command asking what the significance of the flag was that was flying. He stepped out on the bridge wing, looked up on the yardarm and saw the black flag for himself. He got as red as a beet. He ordered the flag pulled and confiscated and the man responsible put on report.

The flag came down and again disappeared. Again nobody knew nuthin'!

Now the Captain took serious measures. He assembled all officers in the Wardroom after special sea detail was completed. He vented his spleen and ordered a complete and thorough search of the ship which included locker and seabag inspections. The officers were organized into teams to conduct this detailed search. The crew, Chiefs included, had their lockers searched. Watchstanders were relieved to stand locker and seabag inspection. Every nook and cranny of the ship including the stack space and spare parts boxes were searched. The black flag was not found. If the Captain could have laid his hands on it and the crew members responsible for flying it, he would probably have had them hung in the black flag's place on the yardarm.

Now it can be told. The black flag would be yanked and given to a junior officer by the "skivy waver." That officer would quietly pass it off to another officer just before sea detail was secured and the second officer would take the flag to "sleepy hollow" (Officer's berthing immediately aft of the Wardroom) where it would be stored in the officers desk safe. For security it was passed from a trusted officer to a trusted officer.

It was very hard to search a crew man's locker knowing full well that he was being violated and you were the culprit that had it all of the time.

Crewmen of that era reading this will finally find out that some officers weren't really bad guys at all.

Copyright (c) 1997 - Jack A. Eckert

 

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