Archive for the “Stories” Category
Catapult New Hampshire Style
Catapult Virgin Islands Style
In response to yesterday’s blog about the traditional Virgin Islands slingshot, my good buddy, Bob, “the Trail Bandit” Garrison wrote:
I liked your catapult story. Up here in the Nawth, we are better armed. Attached are a couple of pictures of the New Hampshire catapult that I built. Come to Henniker, NH on the last Saturday in September. I put on the best, free, chicken barbecue around. Lunch is at noon, pumpkins will be hurled. And if it is a nice day, people will be doing silly things in airplanes.
I hope all is well.
By the way, Bob’s trebuchet can hurl a 13-pound pumpkin more than 1/10 mile (600 Feet) and “they hit hard”
A trebuchet or trebucket (from the French: trébuchet) is a siege engine that was employed in the Middle Ages either to smash masonry walls or to lob projectiles over them and into the castle under siege…read more from Wikpedia
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From Tales of St. John & the Caribbean
“The Queen’s Panties” by Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery
In the mid-sixties, the Queen of England paid a visit to the island of Tortola. This particular story is one that probably should not be told. But what the hell, we were just children.
Let me start with the day before the Queen came to Roadtown, Tortola. There were four of us. We were called “Water Rats.” There were two police officers that were assigned to the waterfront area. One of the officers called out to us saying: “Hey! Come here. Tomorrow the Queen will be here, and we don’t want you Water Rats in the water. Don’t let us have to chase you guys around.”
Those officers were men we respected. Therefore, we promised not to be in the water. We had intentions of making good money that day from visiting tourists by diving for coins. Being that our plans were changed because of our promise, we were left with nothing in mind to do for the day of the Queen’s visit. The eldest of our group, a fellow we called Hookadoe, who is no longer with us in life today, said, “I know what we can do tomorrow. Let’s come early in the morning and go up under the stage.”
My brother Abraham asked Hookadoe, “Why?”
“To see what color panty she’ll be wearing,” Hookadoe replied.
Suddenly, we all thought it was a great idea, for it meant to us that we would be the only ones who would have the pleasure of seeing the Queen’s panty.
Early the following morning, Hookadoe, Abraham, our friend Blackbird and I met up at the Market Square near the waterfront. Slightly before daybreak, we made our way over the hill so that we would not be seen by anyone.
Directly above the Roadtown Post Office was an old pirates’ castle, which today is the Dr. Tattersol Hospital. Sticking out from various points of the castle were heavy iron cannons pointed out towards the Roadtown harbor. There was one particular cannon we kids used to descend downwards into one of the many genip trees to get to the street below on the side of the Post Office. As we got to the street level, which is the same narrow Main Street of today, I was sent out as a scout to see if anyone was in the street.
After seeing no one, I signaled to the others to follow.
In those days, we had a wooden dock that was for ferry and yacht discharge only. The dock directly across from the passenger dock was for cargo boats to unload. For the Queen’s comfort, they constructed a large stage between both docks using many strips of wood for the floor, which made us think we would be able to look up between the many single strips of board.
We all took turns inching our way out toward the customs building at the dock. Upon arrival, we went into the water, clothes and all. The back end of the stage that faced the water was open so that we Water Rats could climb out of the water and go up under the stage.
After we made it under the stage, we undressed and wrang out our clothes. We depended upon our body heat as a drying agent to dry our clothes.
It wasn’t long before people started to gather. Suddenly we heard the sound of an engine. A few moments later, two U-boats came and tied up at the end of both docks, which meant we were totally trapped. To keep from being seen we now had to move toward the front section of the stage and in our little peeping plot, there was no turning back.
That morning we had no breakfast, which was a big mistake. The crowd started to build, and beneath the stage started to get hot from the sun. There was nothing we could do but lay on the ground for a few hours. As time went by, we developed hunger. What made matters worse was the odor of fried chicken, which was causing a big problem for us.
As the hours passed, the heat built up. Our wet clothes never got a chance to dry from our body heat, because our bodies were just pushing out more water from sweat. Therefore what we did was remove our clothes.
I can remember starting to say a prayer, a prayer asking God to send the Queen soon, so that we could get out of there. There were only two ways out. One was to give up our quest. The other was to wait it out until the Queen arrived, made her speech, and moved on up through Main Street to the schoolyard where many people were gathered to see her. The choice of giving up was out of the question, so we stuck it out.
As we lay upon our clothes, up under the hot darkened stage, we heard clapping through the cracks of the stage steps. I could see the crowd moving to the left side in front of the stage. This cheering, clapping, and movement of the crowd told us our big moment was about to come. We made our move to the center of the stage, so that we could have a clear view of the Queen. We all laid side by side in the area where the Queen was about to walk up on the stage.
I can remember that our hunger had intensified so much so that our stomachs were making noises. This was another problem, because the moving gas in our stomachs was loud enough to be heard from the outside. Then as we lay there trying to quiet our stomachs by squeezing them with our hands, it suddenly got very dark.
It seems that someone had just unrolled a three-foot-wide red carpet for the Queen to walk on, which posed another problem. To combat this new dilemma, my brother and I moved to one side of the carpet and Blackbird and Hookadoe the other. That way we could still view the Queen from the sides of the carpet.
The white convertible carrying the Queen drove up in front and stopped directly at the beginning of the red carpet. The car door was opened by one of our local police officers. We could now clearly see her face. Her beauty glittered as the sunlight hit her overall structure. Her large white dress was whiter than white itself. But our viewing of her was just for a brief moment. Once she came to the first step we beneath lost visual of her face.
Our big moment had finally arrived. We moved back from under the step section in an attempt to follow her movements as she was being escorted to her area upon the stage. We tried to look and peep through the cracks of the strips of wood on the sides of the carpet, except that fate was not on our side. The panty we had tried to see, for us, did not exist. All that we saw from our angle was layers and layers of material. It seems that the Queen had on about 25 dresses, one dress on top of another. We did not even get to see her ankle. The only part of her skin we saw was what all had seen, which was from her elbow to below her shoulders and her face. All other parts of her body were covered.
Disappointed as we were, we had no choice but to remain under that stage with our hunger. Many people made speeches as we prayed for them to finish and to begin the parade that would lead everyone through town and away from us, which, in time, happened.
Tired and hungry at the end of our worthless quest, we left the stage in the same way we entered it.
Due to the fact that we were so hungry and no one seemed to be around, we walked about the waterfront area and picked up bits and pieces of chicken and anything else we found to eat that had been left on the ground. For drinks we drained old soda cans, and thus ended our worthless quest to see if we could view the Queen’s panty.
Now today as a man I wonder. If they had caught us then, what would have become of us? What type of charge would they have placed upon us? In any case we did what we did when we did it. Personally, I for one would like to apologize to the Queen. I was just a crazy little boy.
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Posted by gerald in Stories
Speaking as a long time expat, who really does love being on St. John, every now and then it’s nice to “get off the rock” and experience something different. So it is that I find myself in Astoria, Queens, New York City staying with my oldest kid, Sean.
I often hear complaints about the way things work on St. John and in the Virgin Islands, especially when it comes to government agencies. I usually retort that it’s no better stateside - the same old t’ing, maybe worse.
Typical Street - Astoria, Queens, NYC
Astoria is a nice little working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood, which has escaped much of the gentrification that has so changed the nature of similar NYC neighborhoods. The streets are mostly residential, with scattered small businesses, delis, shoemakers, bakeries, pizza joints, stuff like that.
On the corner of my son’s block is a Greek Deli, owned by Italians and staffed by Mexicans and Egyptians. Last week a tall, rugged-looking, brown hair streaked with gray, who it turns out had been shopping at almost all the delis and min marts and groceries in the neighborhood that day, walks into the deli and asked the young Mexican manning the checkout counter for a pack of cigarettes. He pays for his cigarettes, picks up the pack and begins to walk toward the door, when two gentlemen in suits enter the store. They walk over to the counterman, and produce badges from their lapel pockets identifying themselves as agents for the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.
The man who had just purchased the cigarettes turns out to be working for the two consumer affairs cops and despite his appearance is only seventeen years old.
The upshot is that the store is fined and prohibited from selling cigarettes for six months, and the poor Mexican, who works his fingers to the bone making sandwiches 14 hours a day seven days a week and with God knows how many relatives that he’s supporting on both sides of the border, is personally fined $6,000.
I’m sure there are purists out there who will assert that the end justifies the means, but to me, if this really was about stores selling cigarettes to minors, the person sent in to make the buy would be obviously underage, not disguised and chosen especially because he looks way older than eighteen. I feel sorry for that struggling small business owner as well as others in the neighborhood, who were tricked into breaking the law by the sting and especially for the poor counterman for whom the hardship will be enormous.
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From Tales of St. John & the Caribbean
I first met Mervin when I lived in St. Thomas in the late 1960s. I had only been living in the Virgin Islands for about a month and the Caribbean experience was new and exciting. I had just purchased a 17-foot fishing boat from a Frenchtown fisherman. It was tied up to the seawall on the waterfront at Charlotte Amalie and I was standing there, looking out over the harbor, lost in daydreams about all the new adventures that awaited me. It was a feeling similar to the one I had when I bought my first automobile: a sense of freedom, of being able to get up and go wherever and whenever I wanted.
My attention was drawn to the entrance of Charlotte Amalie Harbor where a black-hulled, gaff-rigged, wooden schooner was coming in with all sails flying. I watched as the crew took down the sails and motored over to the seawall, tying up right behind my new boat. I could see three young men standing on deck, one black and two white. They scurried about the vessel, neatly arranging the lines and sails and making everything shipshape.
The schooner carried a cargo of colorful and delicious-looking tropical fruits and vegetables from Dominica, which the crew began to organize so that they could sell them to the shoppers and passers-by on the bustling St. Thomas waterfront.
It was truly a sight to behold, especially to an American recently arrived in the Caribbean. There were mangos of all sizes and colors, bananas with names like fig, apple and horse; limes the size of melons, ugli fruit, sweet green oranges and grapefruit, small ripe pineapples, green coconuts called jelly nuts, breadfruit, papaya, star-shaped carambolas, sugar apples and soursop, colorful sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant; and root vegetables like yam, sweet potato, tanya, yucca and boniato.
While the three young men were getting ready for the day’s activities, I struck up a conversation with them, asking all kinds of questions like: What are your names? Where are you all from? What are those fruits over there? and Can I see the inside of the boat?
The two white men were British expatriates who had recently bought the old schooner for a song, but had spent a good deal of time and money in restoration and refitting. This was their first voyage of a commercial nature and all had gone well so far.
The black man was Mervin, a native of the island of Dominica. Mervin was the invaluable crewman. In addition to being a great sailor, Mervin could also be a navigator, carpenter, plumber, electrician, rigger and cook.
The schooner from Dominica was not the only boat to have brought tropical fruits and vegetables to St. Thomas. There were other boats tied up to the seawall with produce for sale from Santo Domingo, from Puerto Rico and from the British Virgin Islands. In addition, there were kiosks on the walkway that were supplied daily with fruit and vegetables brought in by air from San Juan.
Notwithstanding, the tropical produce grown in the lush volcanic soil of the Dominican mountain valleys was bigger and better and less expensive.
Although sales were brisk and steady, the young entrepreneurs decided to expand the scope of their market and came up with a more direct sales approach; one that they hoped would enable them to sell out faster, with less competition, and at higher prices. Their idea was to sell door-to-door, so to speak, stopping alongside the yachts that were anchored in the harbor or tied up at the dock at the then-prestigious Yacht Haven Marina.
To put the plan into effect, they needed a boat about the size of mine. Their schooner was too big and not maneuverable enough for such an activity, and their dinghy was too small to carry an appreciable amount of goods.
The captain made me an offer: a portion of the profits in exchange for my time and for the use of my boat. I readily accepted their proposal, delighted by the opportunity to be part of this Virgin Island adventure.
That very afternoon, when business began to slow down at the waterfront, we loaded up my boat and motored around the harbor, stopping alongside the anchored yachts to show the people our fruits and vegetables. It was an easy sell. Everything looked just too delicious to pass up.
After that day, we all stayed in touch and whenever the fruit boat was in port, we would get together socially for a drink or a night on the town.
One day after I had moved to St. John, I received a call from Mervin, who had decided to leave the fruit boat and seek his fortune in the Virgin Islands. He needed a place to stay while he was waiting to receive some documents regarding his immigration status, and I told him that he could use my apartment in Coral Bay.
As usual, Mervin proved to be helpful and multitalented. He helped me build fish traps and, in a flamboyant spectacle of religion and theater, he fortified the house against evil spirits. Carrying a coal pot full of smoldering branches, leaves and herbs into every nook and cranny of the house, he chased away any “jumbies” that might have been lurking about.
In the mornings, we went into the bush to cut birch sticks for the fish pot braces, and after lunch, we spent long and tedious hours in the front yard tying up the chicken wire traps.
In the evenings, Mervin would captivate me with stories about the wonders of Dominica: rich jungles where every kind of tropical fruit imaginable grew in abundance, haunted mountains that rose above the clouds and where the Devil himself was known to walk, spectacular waterfalls possessed with spiritual powers, and hot springs whose waters could cure illnesses and restore lost youth. He told me of trained monkeys that would climb the tall coconut trees and throw coconuts down to the gatherers below, about his maternal grandmother who was a full-blooded Carib, and a princess among her people, about magic and jumbies and ghosts and zombies who roamed about on full-moon nights in a netherworld hovering between life and death, and about the poor farmer who shared his meager plate of food with a stray mongrel dog and awoke the next morning to find a $100 bill in the gourd where he had placed the dog’s food.
One story that particularly impressed me was the tale of the Donkey Foot Woman, which Mervin told me by candlelight one night when we were temporarily without electricity:
One evening, there was a festival in Mervin’s village. Housewives prepared plates of fish and meats and vegetables. Others brought rum and beer. A huge bonfire lit up the clear Caribbean night and the sound of music and laughter echoed throughout the village.
At one point, a crowd drew around to observe a group of young men and women who were dancing to an ancient African rhythm, expertly played on a variety of homemade percussion instruments.
One of the dancers was not from the village. She was a beautiful white woman wearing a large straw hat. No one knew who she was or where she came from.
A little boy stood next to his mother in the crowd. He stared at the strange woman, fascinated by the spectacle and the hypnotic beat of the music. Suddenly he turned to his mother and said, “Mommy, look de woman. She have a donkey foot!”
The little boy’s mother answered, “Me son, I see no woman with donkey foot.”
“Momma, momma, yes, look!” the boy cried, then loud enough for all to hear he yelled, “Watch de donkey foot!”
An instant later, the little boy fell to the ground dead, his skull mashed in by a mysterious and powerful blow.
Many years have now passed and much has changed since I last saw Mervin, but I still carry fond memories of him and of those wonderful and exciting days of my initiation into the island experience.
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The hero of this story was born on the island of Hispaniola in the early 1500′s. His name was Guarocuya. He was the son of a Taino cacique, or chief, who was assassinated by the Spaniards. After the death of his father, Guarocuya was adopted by Franciscan monks, who provided him with a Spanish-style education. Upon his conversion to Catholicism he was given the Christian name, Enriquillo.
Enriquillo was happily married to the granddaughter of the illustrious caciques, Caonabo and Anacaona. Her name was Mencía, and she also had converted to Christianity.
The Tainos of Hispaniola, conquered and subjugated by the Spanish, were governed under a policy called the encomienda, a system not very different than the institution of slavery. Under this policy Taino lands were entrusted to Spanish colonists who then exercised complete authority over that land and the people on it.
Enriquillo and Mencía, along with other Tainos of their village were “entrusted” to the Spanish colonist, Francisco de Valenzuela who operated a large ranch. When Francisco de Valenzuela died he left his estate, including the “entrusted” workers, to his son Andrés who, taking advantage of his position and his power, began to make unwanted sexual advance towards Mencía.
When Enriquillo found out about the persecution being suffered by his wife, he reproached his new master and begged him to leave Mencía in peace. Andrés de Valenzuela perceived his servant’s complaint as an affront to his authority and had Enriquillo beaten in front of the other Tainos.
Indignant over this unjust treatment, Enriquillo denounced Andrés to the lieutenant governor of the village, don Pedro Badillo. The Spanish colonial official, however, refused to get involved in any case involving a Taino against a Spaniard. Enriquillo then took his complaint to the highest judicial authorities on the island. This only resulted in the case being sent back to Badillo to deal with. When Badillo received the complaint for the second time, he warned Enriquillo that if he persisted in this matter, he would be arrested and sentenced to prison.
At this point Enriquillo made his decision to rebel against the Spaniards. He gathered together a large group of fellow Tainos and fled to the rugged mountain terrain in the region of Bahoruco. The year was 1520.
Badillo and Valenzuela and a force of armed men set out in pursuit of the rebels. A fierce battle ensued and the Taino rebels succeeded in defeating the Spaniards, many of whom were killed or wounded. Valenzuela himself was at the point of being killed by one of the Taino warriors when, Enriquillo, the former servant, took pity on him and ordered the warrior to spare Valenzuela’s life. Enriquillo set Valenzuela free, saying to him, “Be grateful that I have not killed you. Leave and never return here again.”
The Taino insurgents established a secure mountain stronghold where they planted fields of yucca and other provisions in the most hidden and remote valleys and conducted raids against Spanish haciendas and ranches in the vicinity.
Enriquillo turned out to be a great warrior and a master strategist. He used guerrilla tactics in which he avoided meeting his numerically superior and better armed enemy on open ground. Instead Enriquillo took advantage of his knowledge the terrain and lead his adversaries into to fall into deadly ambushes. After attacking with lightning speed Enriquillo would retreat into the nearly inaccessible mountain valleys and steep ravines, which only they knew well and, from there, prepare for the next surprise attack.
After several humiliating defeats, the Spaniards decided to take another tack. Diego Colon, the Governor General of Hispaniola offered to make peace with Enriquillo and his followers granting them complete immunity if they would give up the rebellion and once again submit to Spanish authority. Enriquillo refused to accept this and several other subsequent proposals made by both the government and the church.
At one point the Spanish sent Father Remigio, the priest who had been Enriquillo’s former teacher, to act as an intermediary between the government and the rebels. Father Remigio was intercepted by lookouts who dispossessed the Franciscan of his robes. They then conducted the priest, who was dressed only in his underwear, to meet Enriquillo.
Ashamed at seeing his old teacher in such a state, Enriquillo punished the warriors who were responsible for this show of disrespect, and as a means of apology ordered that a grand reception be made in Father Remigio’s honor. Enriquillo’s doubts concerning the sincerity and good faith of the colonial officials, however, still remained and he once again refused to accept the peace offer.
In 1532 in order to put an end to the Taino uprising, the Emperor sent a corps of two hundred well-armed and well-equipped soldiers to Hispaniola under the command of Captain Francisco de Barrionuevo.
Barrionuevo was ordered to explore all peaceful avenues for ending the conflict before resorting to violent action. In 1533 Barrionuevo, along with thirty soldiers, two priests and thirty Tainos, among whom were Enriquillo’s and two priests met to discuss peace with the rebellious cacique. The meeting took place alongside a saltwater lake that today is called Lake Enriquillo in commemoration of the epic uprising.
Barrionuevo carried with him a missive from the Royal Court that proposed that the cacique cease hostilities and sign a pact of peace. Enriquillo read the document which agreed to the abolition of the encomienda system, freedom for the Tainos and grants of land to be used for the cultivation of crops and the raising of animals in exchange for the cessation of hostilities and the acceptance of Spanish authority.
Enriquillo accepted the terms and signed the agreement with Barrionuevo. The Spanish monarchy rapidly approved the treaty and sent the ratified documents to a Taino representative named Gonzáles who had been commissioned by Enriquillo for that purpose.
The Royal Court was true to their word and even took special care in the resettlement of the Tainos, providing them with cattle for livestock and seeds for the cultivation of the land. Enriquillo died peacefully a year after the peace treaty was signed, earning the love of his people and the admiration and respect of the Spaniards.
Enriquillo’s wife, Mencía organized the construction a church where the remains of her heroic husband were then buried. His tomb, however, was also the tomb of the Taino people; for despite their recently won gains, the ravages of European diseases and depredations continued to take their toll on the less than 4,000 surviving Tainos of Hispaniola. By the end of the sixteenth century that noble and gentle race had all but disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Loosely translated from Historica Grafica de la Republica Dominicana by Jose Ramon Estella.
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Many visitors and even some guidebooks talk about the wild horses of Vieques. In fact, these horses are not wild. They all have owners. Well, sort of.
The way it was explained to me was that if a horse upsets your garden or damages your car, that horse may very well not have an owner. On the other hand, if instead you were to take that same horse home, you can bet that its rightful owners would show up at your door demanding that you give them back their horse.
A Horse Story
A longtime resident of Vieques told me an interesting anecdote about horses and their owners.
Once upon a time, when the Marines were in Vieques, they decided that the horses grazing the fields inside the Camp Garcia gate were trespassing on government land.
The horses were rounded up, arrested, so to speak, and then put in a corral to be used for the horseback riding pleasure of the Marine brass.
One day, during a visit by the British Marines to Camp Garcia, a British Sergeant Major, passing by the corral, asked an American Sergeant Major about the horses in the camp. It was soon discovered that they both loved riding and the American Sergeant Major invited the British Sergeant Major out for a ride.
Late that afternoon the two Sergeant Majors saddled up two of the finest horses in the camp and rode out towards Esperanza. When they passed the Don Q Bar on the way into town, the two Sergeant Majors developed a keen thirst and decided to go into the bar for a few drinks.
The two officers tied up the horses to a tree and walked into the bar where they sat down and very knowledgeably discussed horses, horsemanship and their favorite places to ride.
The American Sergeant Major described to the British Sergeant Major every detail of the trail that the two men would take as soon as they had satiated their thirst. This being accomplished, they got off of their barstools and walked out onto the street.
When the two Sergeant Majors looked over at the tree where they had left the horses tied, they saw a pair of fancy saddles, a pair of bridles, and a pair of saddle blankets, in effect, all their riding paraphernalia, but there were no horses. The owner of the horses had recognized them and had taken them back.
There was too much gear to walk back to the camp. So they sat down at the bar and tossed down a series of stiff drinks, while they waited for transportation to take them and their equipment back to the base.
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This story has nothing to do about St. John, but I will now justify it’s relevance for a St. John blog. Like I write, St. John, the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. This broadens the topic base quite a bit. Now please allow me to stretch this a little bit. Here’s a story about a man from the Caribbean.
Really I just like stories, and I’d like to share this one….
Many people from the Caribbean have migrated to the big cities of the United States and Europe in search of better jobs. The following story concerns one such immigrant who settled in the Washington DC area.
Upon arriving in his new homeland a young man, a recent immigrant from the Caribbean, applied for a job with the Washington DC Fire Department. He passed through the screening process and underwent training as a fireman and EMT. Appreciative of the opportunities that had been presented to him, he became a gung-ho and dedicated employee.
On March 30, 1981, he happened to be at the George Washington University Hospital where he had just brought in an accident victim. While he was there, a call came in alerting the staff that a high priority trauma would soon be arriving at the emergency room.
Hearing the screech of tires outside, he proceeded to the front doors and saw a black limousine out of which emerged a swarm of gentlemen in suits and sunglasses surrounding older man who appeared to be injured. The older man, refusing to accept the help offered by his companions, walked unsteadily toward the emergency room doors. Just inside, he collapsed and fell into the arms of the Caribbean paramedic.
To the fireman’s amazement the man in his arms turned out to be none other than the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. The President had just been shot by John Hinckley Jr. who, emulating Robert De Niro’s character, Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver, had attempted the assassination in order to impress actress Jodie Foster.
The astonished fireman carried Reagan to a gurney and took him to the triage room where he helped tend to the President as doctors, nurses and technicians quickly arrived on the scene.
Meanwhile, secret service agents fanned out through the emergency room complex and saw to it that the area was secured. This meant that any non-essential personnel needed to be removed from the area, as the secret service had no way of knowing whether any of the patients might pose a security risk.
“What’s wrong with that guy?” barked a secret serviceman.
“Broken leg,” answered one of the hospital attendants.
“Get him out of here!”
“And what about that guy?”
“Get him out of here!”
And so it went until the room was cleared and other accommodations were found for the sick and wounded waiting to be attended to that day.
In the triage room, Reagan was stripped and examined. Doctors discovered a gunshot wound to the President’s chest, which had punctured one his lungs. The Chief Executive was rushed to the operating room where he underwent two hours of surgery to remove the .22 caliber explosive “devastator” bullet and to repair his collapsed lung.
When his shift was over, the Caribbean EMT and fireman went home where told his wife what had happened that night. “Oh, I’m so very proud of you, my dear, you’re a real hero” she exclaimed as she gave her husband a big hug.
That night, while laying in bed, the fireman also could not help but be proud of himself thinking how few people could say that they had played a part in saving the life of the President of the United States.
Two days later the fireman was summoned by his supervisor and told to report to the Secret Service office the next day. “Why do they want to see me?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” replied the supervisor, “maybe they want to give you a medal.”
That night he returned home and shared this new development with his wife. She agreed with the lighthearted speculation of the supervisor and told her husband that surely he was to receive some sort of reward or commendation for what he had done for the President on the night that he was shot.
The morning of his scheduled appointment, the fireman put on his best dress uniform and reported to the office of the Secret Service prepared to be recognized for the part that he had played in the drama at the hospital. His reception at the office, however, was icy, and he began to suspect that something was wrong. A receptionist told him to proceed to room 224, an office down the hall. Inside the sparsely furnished room he found a desk, a chair and two decidedly unfriendly and stern-faced men, who, without any exchange of pleasantries, instructed him to sit down in the wooden chair alongside the desk. The two secret servicemen remained standing.
“Where is it?” demanded one of the men, pointing a finger in the fireman’s chest. “We know you have it and you better give it up now.”
“What! What are you talking about? Where is what?” the fireman stammered.
“Don’t play dumb with us. Let us make this clear. If you don’t cooperate your career and your life will never be the same. You better come clean and tell us the truth.
The questioning continued in this manner for over an hour with the professional interrogators never revealing what it was they were talking about. Finally, he was summarily dismissed. As he reached the door, however, one of the agents added, “And, I wouldn’t talk about this to anyone if I were you, do you understand? This is not over. We’ll be speaking to you again”
Intimidated and bewildered, the fireman returned home and to his dismay found his house full of friends and family invited by his wife to celebrate her husband’s recognition. Totally chagrined, he was forced to explain to the well-wishers that far from being commended he was the subject of some sort of investigation the subject of which he did not know.
Several weeks after the shooting, during a meeting with his supervisor, the supervisor told him confidentially what happened. Sometime during the triage process, a pair of gold and diamond cufflinks and a tie clasp worn by President Reagan were stolen. They were a gift from the first lady, Nancy Reagan, on his inauguration and were worth $30,000.
It turned out that almost everyone in the emergency, triage and operating rooms were considered suspects and were questioned in the same manner as the fireman. Then, a week after the interrogations, the missing items miraculously appeared behind a file cabinet in the triage room stuffed in an envelope. As the room was cleaned and sterilized on a daily basis, it was unlikely that the jewelry had simply been misplaced. The most plausible explanation was that someone committed a crime of opportunity and then, fearful of the ruthless perseverance of the secret service investigators returned it to take the heat off themselves.
The fireman was relieved to finally learn the reason for his interrogation and to know that his ordeal was most likely over. Yet, he was disappointed the thief was never identified and that there might be some lingering suspicion about him. He felt like he had been put through the wringer. Having experienced the elation of having helped the President of the United States in a moment of need that so quickly yielded to the harrowing experience of being treated as a suspect in a crime he did not commit. And so it was that this son of the Caribbean found that life in the land of opportunity is not without some trying moments.
Some years later, after being promoted to the position of supervisor, the fireman from the Caribbean accompanied a friend of mine who was the producer for the TV show Emergency Call. It was during the making of one of the episodes that the fireman shared this story with my friend.
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