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
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.
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