I was itching to go back on active duty with the US Coast Guard, especially to go back to the Gulf Coast of the United States. I had been ordered down to Gulfport, Mississippi the night after Hurricane Katrina hit. With in three days of making landfall my Coast Guard Unit was running Search and Rescue Missions, Humanitarian Relief, and also the dismal task of riot and looter control. I knew things were still bad and was practically begging my BM1 to send me back down there. So on April 15th I was given ADSW Orders to New Orleans LA. I was assigned to Sector New Orleans the Hurricane Salvage Division.
To pass some of my off time I would frequently take trips down to the lower ninth ward to see the worst of the hurricane Katrina damage in the New Orleans area. I was awe struck, however it did not compare to what I had seen in Mississippi.
I began to occasionally go into some of the building that had been abandoned and tried to keep to the rule of take only pictures and leave only foot prints.
On one such occasion I was touring an area of the Lower ninth and I came upon the Greater St. Rose Baptist Church.
I decided to enter the church and was amazed at the sights I saw. The church had been totally devastated and had about 3 feet of mud that had been put there by the storm.
I came back to the site a few days later with my digital camera. I began to explore the ruins and thought to myself, that I would like some token or trinket of this church, I began to kick aside rubble and the ruins of where the pulpit was I noticed a gold frill
I pulled on the fabric and to my surprise and delight it was the church's flag. I decided I had found my souvenir of my trip. Besides the church was going to be knocked down and I did not want the flag hauled off with the garbage.
I put the flag in the back of my truck. There was so much mud caked on it that it didn't budge from the journey back to the French Quarter where my hotel was.
I hand washed the flag in my bath tub, with a little detergent and some Tender Loving Care it cleaned up nice. There was a large colony of bugs inside the area where the pole goes. ( it was actually pretty gross) I let the flag air dry for a few days.
The flag had no holes or major stains on it and the colors returned nicely.
I had every intent of keeping the flag for myself. However after telling my mother of my find she said wouldn't it be nice if you could find the pastor and give it back to him.
I became determined to find the pastor and return the flag to him. using a digital photo of the church's name plate I started calling people on the list, with the help of the internet and the yellow pages I was able to find phone numbers and address of various people involved in the congregation, I began contacting them and leaving messages I was turning up nothing. Most numbers had been disconnected or simply were unavailable. People had moved and been displaced.
I called various Baptist churches in the New Orleans area still only to turn up empty handed.
Maybe about a week or so after I began my meaninglessly futile search I received a phone call from the former Deacon of the church. I was ecstatic.
Early one evening I was invited over to his house,
When I gave him the flag back his eyes gleamed and he admired the flag over and over. He said to me I was thinking you were going to bring a tattered flag that would have been no good except for rags.
He invited me to his home and we spoke for well over an hour. It was a very moving experience to listen to their story of survival during the storm. It turned out the Deacon is the pastor's brother and the Greater St Rose Baptist Church was started by their father in 1968. The building that stands today was built by the Deacon in 1975 and was recently remodeled right before Hurricane Katrina.
I was invited as guest of honor to their service on Sunday where the Deacon and his brother will present the flag to their new congregation and put it on display for the entire church to witness.
I went to church in my dress uniform with all my ribbons and medals gleaming. The pastor began with opening prayers and a welcome message.
He said to the congregation "Now I know most of you have not returned to the Ninth Ward, the emotional pain for us to go back to the Greater St Rose church is to difficult to bear. We have a strong history there and to see it swept away by Katrina seems unfair. However, we have been able to preserve part of our history thanks to a very special guest that we have with us here today.
He had me stand up in my pew. Then he continued
Let me introduce to you Petty Officer Stephen Grima he is a member of the Coast Guard and I know many of you were helped by the Coast Guard during the storm. This young man went into our Greater St Rose church and was digging around the ruins he found there 2 flags, one flag was in ruins the flag of the United States and he also found our church flag which we have here today.
Then he held the flag up for everyone to see.
The church erupted into applause, cheering and finally a standing ovation. The band started to play a rendition of Steve Wonder's song "I just called to say I love you" They used the Lyrics
"We just had to say we love you, we had to show how much we care and we mean it from the bottom of our hearts."
It was a very heartwarming experience. After the service was over I met the pastor and I believe everyone in that church shook my hand or patted me on the back They said things like
"Thank you so much for what you did"
"You have really made a positive impact on our church"
"you have helped to restore my hope in this community"
The Deacon told me how I may see this just as a flag but the pastor and the people see this flag a symbol of hope where everyone in that church has been effected by the storm and many people have lost everything to them this flag being helps bring back the good memories and also kind of a symbol that things will be ok in the end.
I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity to make a lasting impression with this church.
Submitted by Anonymous