I have kept this awful secret since March 14th, 1999 and I tell it now only because those who it would hurt the worst are all gone, the last crewmember having passed on last Monday.
It began much like any other ambulance call in a small town, the little pager on my belt beeped three times, followed by a message directing me to an address here in town. I dropped my pen on my desk and rushed to the ambulance bay. Somehow the address seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it until we arrived. It was the home of my old friend Darwin Albertson.
I rushed to the door, where his wife Myrna met me.
“He is in the bedroom, he says he won’t let anyone in but you, you have to hurry he is in real bad shape!”
I told the rest of the crew to wait in the living room and went to my old friend’s side.
“Jerry, is that you Jerry?” he gasped, fighting for each breath.
“Yes, it’s me Darwin, here let me get oxygen on you so you can breath easier.” I put a nasal canella around his ears and put the tubes in his nostrils, his breathing came a bit easier as the oxygen reached his starving blood stream and brought a bit of strength to his failing body.
“I – I have to tell you something before I die!” he said, his voice now a bit stronger.
“Now Darwin, let us get you on the ambulance and to the
hospital, we can talk on the way.”
”No! I am dieing, I can tell, this damn cancer has got the best of my old body, but I can’t die before I tell you about it.”
“Ok Darwin, go ahead, but hurry.”
“You remember I was in the Navy back in ’96, assigned to the presidential yacht escort vessel The Hope.”
“I remember, you were so proud of your assignment, gunners mate weren’t you?”
“Yes, “ he coughed up a bit of blood, I caught it in an emesis basin. “ gunners mate, but I never dreamed I would ever get in the situation we were in on the night of the 17th of July.”
I sponged his forehead with cool water, he was feverish, “Darwin we have to get you to hospital, they can save you, extend your life let me load you and get you on the road?”
“NO! Now listen, I know I don’t have more then an hour or two, left, and I want to spend them at home, with my friends and family, can’t you get that through your fucking head?”
It all started, or at least for me it started that evening, Captain Estes called us to a formation on the main deck, as we stood there he informed the whole crew that we had received a very special assignment directly from the President. The story was that a 747 had been stolen from New York; it contained highly classified documents, which Arab terrorists stole from the Pentagon. It was our mission to shoot down that aircraft.”
“Well the hour came quickly I was on the main deck so I could target the aircraft, when it came into view, I held the launcher to my shoulder and took aim on the very center of the aircraft, where I knew there would be a fuel tank and squeezed the launch trigger. There was a whoosh, and the missile was away. Just seconds later the missile found it’s target. Fire was everywhere, then I could see death rained down into the depths of the ocean. I was proud to have done my mission. The aircraft was destroyed, our secrets were safe. It wasn’t until later that I learned the horrible truth.”
“Oh my God, not on Flight 800?”
“Darwin, I want the Sheriff to hear this.”
”NO! Just you, I can trust you, I don’t trust the Sheriff.” Then he continued with his story. “The Captain ordered full speed ahead, and we got the hell out of there before we were discovered. The Captain’s actions made me a bit worried, why hadn’t we stuck around and tried to recover the documents, I knew they could be floating on the surface if they were in a briefcase. When we were out to sea, and the Captain took us down to normal cruising speed, I caught up to him, as he was leaving the bridge. He asked that I walk with him, and it was then he revealed the true nature of our mission. He told me that there were not terrorist, no secrets, it was all a lie to get us to take illegal action against a commercial aircraft. The order, he explained came directly from the President. It seems there was a woman on board Flight 800 who intended to go public with a story about the President; the Captain seemed to believe the story was true. The woman, one Elizabeth Summers was on her way to France, where she felt she would be out of reach of the President’s wrath. She was raped by the President in the Oval Office last month, and wanted to make the most powerful man in the world pay for his crime.”
“Darwin, no, I don’t believe it, you couldn’t have.”
“Yes, I killed all those people, and I know I will burn in hell for it. Today is my day of reckoning; today it is all over for me. You have to promise me one thing.”
“Ok, but this is getting hard to believe Darwin.”
“Look, everyone on that ship is as guilty as I am, I have been in contact with most of the crew since I got out of the Navy. Strangely nearly every one of us has come down with cancer. Now I don’t know if the government is responsible for our illness but I don’t want you to release my confession until the last member of the crew of the Hope is gone. There are still three alive, I have their names and addresses on a pad in the night stand, get it now.”
“I rummaged through his nightstand drawer and came up with a small pad listing the survivors.
“Ok Darwin, I have the list.”
His breath became more labored, and he slipped into a coma. I had to get him to Hospital! Burt,” I called “Lets load him and go.”
Burt came in and we began to prepare him for transport when he died. Just quit breathing. Sometimes it happens that way, when a dieing person gets his conscience clear, he lets himself go, and I knew Darwin would be in a much better place, where he can personally apologize to those who died. I went away from that call with a deep hatred for a President who would kill over two hundred people just to remain in office and out of jail, it took everything in my power to hold off until the last of the crew passed on, but I did, after all a promise is a promise.
I have written all the information I have about this down in a letter, which I will post in the morning.
Sealing the letter, I lay it on the kitchen table, then I heard a knock at my door.