My Original Sin

The Flag 

By Jim Orrock

From "The Helm" Published By Members of the USCGC DUANE Association - Reprinted By Permission

Those of us who have been to Bermuda during the hey day of Coast Guard Cutter visits can empathize with the authors plight. 

I was a Young Coast Guardsman on my first overseas liberty. We had just delivered a Greek sailor to Georgetown, Bermuda for medical aid. The  word was we got him just in time, another forty-five minutes he would have been dead. The executive officer gathers the liberty section on the fantail and  warned us about the cops of Bermuda. Told of some things we should not do while in town. Number one; do not mess with the memorials and their flags. Hell, my mind was on the booze, maybe women, and damnit I had to stand a two hour watch over the Admiral’s Barge; everyone else would get all the good stuff before I hit the beach.

The two hour watch seem to  drag on forever. Finally, I was relieved. Hell, why waste another forty-five minutes to get in civilian clothes, let’s hit the beach in my dress blues. We heard the enlisted man’s club had cheap food and booze, so I figured I could do a little catching up there first. Well the galley was closed, what hell, a few drinks on an empty stomach, cheap drunk. Finally found someone to share a taxi to town, can not remember who that was, Hamilton here I come! Did a little tourist shopping for the folks and my girl.

Around nineteen hundred I ran into most of the crew in this pub. I can not remember eating anything, just drinking.

Around an hour or two later we headed to another club after being asked to leave the first place (Fox and Hound), off we go.

We stroll in to another establishment the likes of this old country boy had never seen. The waiters wore tuxedos, I remember a lot of glass, and French doors leading to a terrace. I was setting there getting a little nervous. The management was getting a little upset at us.

Some of the crew (Officers and Enlisted) was talking about tearing the place apart. The next thing I knew Tom Bedell stood up, yelling and threw a chair through the French doors glass going every where. Some officers started throwing chairs and glasses. Man, I want out of here.

"Mr. Goodie Two Shoes" only thought this stuff happened in the movies. I believe the cops came, but we where long gone and they did not pursue us. I am thinking, if they do not do anything these guys are pretty soft.

I have always been a Naval History buff, even back then. Anyhow, I am stumbling down the street and see this World War Two memorial, with flags of the British Empire. One of the flag is the Saint George Cross or the Royal Naval Ensign. “Damn, I would like to have that,” in my drunken stupor, I think. So over the little fence I go, take down the flag and off on my merry way I go. Beside those guys tore up that club and they did not do anything, Why should they care about a silly old flag.

WRONG…some damn taxi driver saw me take the flag and off to the police station he went. I had given the flag to fireman Midgett, since he had a bag big enough to put it in.

Well here come a little police car, siren wailing and lights a flashing. They start going through everyone’s bags, and of course they get to fireman Midgett. They find the flag and start to haul off the wrong man. My Christian up bringing would not let that happen, so I “fessed up”. Off to the gaol (British jail) we go.

They dragged me in front of the magistrate. He even wore a wig, which told me, ”We do not take to kindly to folks who mess with our flags”. I owed them eighty-five dollars for a new flag. They claimed I tore the flag when I took it down. I was not about to contest them, seemed to me they were holding the high cards. He went on to say, I would probably be sent to Crown Point Prison for a couple of years, in fact he said he just sent a Canadian fellow there. Damn, things ain’t looking too good.

I am put in a cell. A Door with bars open to the weather, a wooden bench to sleep on and a sink and toilet combination; really interesting. As I lay there I was thinking, “Boy, you have screwed up big time.”

Meanwhile on the good cutter Duane, word had gotten back to Captain Roger Erdman, of my incarceration. He put out the word, “We leave none of the crew behind, get Orrock out of jail.” Well the O.D. was Ensign Stromsen; poor lad had grown a fine peach fuzz beard while on Ocean Station Echo. He shaved it off, borrowed the Engineering Officer’s Dress Blue jacket with all of his fruit salad (the E.O. was a mustang, so he had a few ribbons.) I was told Mr. Stromsen had a good bit of money with him to pay any fine or bail money. Off to the jail he goes.

I am awakened in my cell and brought back before the magistrate, and there stands in front of him Ensign Stromsen in this Lt. Commander’s jacket and no beard.  

The judge looks at me and says “This officer said you are the one sailor on that ship, that they can not sail without, so that makes you one lucky fellow, get the hell out of Bermuda and if you ever step back here I will have you arrested and sent to Crown Point Prison which is in England, not Bermuda.

Of course the Ensign is mad as hell at me, because he shaved his beard off to rescue me. Now I am getting scared of what the Captain will do.

We get back to Boston in a couple of weeks and there is a captain’s mast held just for my benefit. I figure he will take my crow away (bust me a pay rate, back to seaman.)

I am shaking in my boots as I stand before Captain Erdman. The executive officer starts things off, telling me I am charged with stealing the flag, did not I remember him telling the crew before we went ashore about “do not mess with the Flags!!”

The Captain then starts reading the police report, I am thinking he going to have me shot, he keeps on reading, it sounding worst all the time. He finishes reading the report looks over at the executive officer, and says “do we have anyone representing the Bermuda government, since we do not then this report is hearsay and can not be used against MST3 Orrock, all charges are dropped.” Damn my knees almost gave way.

The Captain then said “Orrock, I know you will not let something like this happen again”?

“Captain, I will never stand before you again, under charges” I told him.

  A couple of post scripts here:

First a couple of months later I was on a plane going back to Boston, sitting next to me was Ensign Stromsen’s mother. When she found out I was from the Duane, she started telling me how mad her son was that he had to shave off his beard to save that no good Coastie from jail. I did not have the heart to tell her I was the no good Coastie.

About eighteen months later the Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker, John MacDonald tied up outside of us in Boston. I went aboard to take a tour, traded my baseball cap for one of their berets. Anyhow, as we talked sailor talk, they happen to mention one of their shipmates was in Crown Point Prison for trying to steal a flag in Bermuda. A DAMN cold chill went down my back. I have not been back to Bermuda in the thirty years since this has happened, even though my wife begs me to take her there…..

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