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America at Large

The "Bones" of Patriotism
By Ricky Allen
Jul 1, 2005 - 2:25:00 PM

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While in the Navy, I had the opportunity to cover a story about a human skull, two femur bones, and a dedication to duty that surpasses many.

I know what you're thinking ... it's the Fourth of July weekend and I'm talking about body parts ... hear me out.

I was a Navy Journalist on the hunt for a story when I came across this legend. I had heard the story for years, but never got a chance to research it. Now it was in my grasp.

My story began in the Suez Canal on board the USS George Washington (CVN-73) at the squadron doors of Fighter Squadron 103, the "Jolly Rogers."

For those that don't know, the Jolly Roger is the classic skull and cross bones, a symbol used by pirates.

As I entered the area, I introduced myself to their commanding officer, and told him I was on a quest to prove the rumor real - Did the squadron actually carry around a human skull and bones in a glass case? Just as fast as I asked, my eyes glanced across the room and answered the question for me. There it was, sitting on a table, with its carrying handle handcuffed to the wall.

"This is odd, but at least I know it's real," I said to myself.

From that point, after laughing at the surprised look on my face, the commander sat me down and explained the story behind the skull and bones.

His name was Ensign Jack Ernie, a new pilot to the Jolly Rogers. It was the  1940's and the U.S. was in combat during the invasion of Okinawa. His plane was hit during the fight, and during his last transmission to his captain, Ernie said, "... remember me with the Jolly Rogers."

After his remains were recovered, his family presented his skull and femur bones, mounted in a glass case, to the men of the Jolly Rogers as a living symbol and tradition of the squadron.

They knew he wouldn't have wanted it any other way. According to the squadron stories, before every new commander takes over the Jolly Rogers squadron, there is a ceremony, called "The Passing of the Bones," where the remains of ENS Jack Ernie are passed from the old skipper to the new one. Afterwards, the lowest ranking officer takes charge of the bones.

When the squadron transfers, the case that carry the bones are handcuffed to his wrist. If you ever have the opportunity to meet the squadron, look for their flight schedule. He's still there, with his call sign, "Bones."

Even in death, Ernie showed his dedication to duty and to country. He could have cried, even screamed. However, he asked only to be remembered. It is true dedication til death is what makes the U.S. Military. So this Fourth of July weekend, when you think about America's servicemen and women overseas, think of Ernie; a man that still serves his country to this day, even after death.

From the Email Bin:

I only have one submission to read from my email bin this weekend, and it comes from Barry. He says, in response to (I'm assuming from my column "Are America's Children Under Attack?")

"My spirit has been moved, my concern is where are we as a nation ... where our kids are under attack ... my heart grives for the children the only hope for this is ALMIGHTY GOD ... THRU PRAYER ... THE BATTLE IS GOING ON  every day ... GOD PROTECT THE CHILDREN"

Thanks to Barry for those inspirational words.

And what about you? I'm not bitter? Are you interested?

Then drop me a line about whatever column, concern, at Leave your name and state so that we can see where responses are coming from, and no matter if it's good or bad, I've heard it all. I welcome it all. That's what America is all about.

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