Wooden Coffins


Thirty or so years ago I was stationed in Sicily at a small Navy facility. We had a tiny "hospital", with a couple of doctors. If a Navy person died in an accident off base and was picked up by a civilian ambulance, we had no jurisdiction. By law a body could not be moved from the prefecture where he died for 3 days. He had to be held out and observed for 3 days before embalming, burial or transfer to another place.
After 4 or 5 days and the appropriate palm greasing the body would be delivered to the base in a beautiful wooden coffin. Six sided, polished and immaculately finished. The coffin was lined in copper or lead, including a top panel soldered in place.
If one of our ambulances could get there in time, standing orders were to pronounce the person alive start resusitation and hightail it back to base. A medevac was called and the body flown to the large hospital in Naples where it was pronounced dead and shipped back to the states. But I digress.
We shipped the sealed coffins to the Naples Naval Hospital also, where it was opened, identity confirmed, then the body was put in an official military metal coffin and shipped back to the states. Not having a use for the wooden coffins, they stored them in the hospital basement--they couldn't very well just throw them in the dumpster.
A kindred soul saw the stack of beautiful coffins, and envisioned using the wood to make his wife some new kitchen cabinets, some furniture and maybe a toy box for the kiddo. (speculation) He talked with the chief, who advised him not to ask for them, as he would be officially refused, but to take what he wanted and no one would care. (Remember "Don't ask, don't tell"?)
So it came to pass he sneaked a few home undetected and immediately fell afoul of Murphy. While the family was out one evening a burglar broke in, saw the coffins and fled in panic. The police came, the reporters came and had a field day. They couldn't decide if he was a grave robber, a satanic cultist, or a mass murderer about to go on a rampage.
The Navy came through. A representative of the Navy Hospital told the police that the hospital stocked a supply of coffins and that this person had stolen some in order to sell the metal linings. He was released in the custody of the SP and everyone was satisfied. Johnny had to make do with a plain toy box.
--
Gerald Ross
Cochran, GA
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Now that's a cute story.
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I love the smell of a good sea story with my morning coffee...
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