Tuesday, December 3, 2013

HMBS Flamingo Survivor Carves Out New Life

HMBS survivor Gregory H. Curry is now a part-time Electrical instructor at BTVI

For the past 10 years, Gregory H. Curry has been a part-time instructor at The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI).  Some of his Electrical Installation students are aware he is a former Royal Bahamas Defence Force Officer.  However, few realize he nearly gave his life for this country.

May 10th, 1980 would forever be enshrined in the annals of Mr. Curry’s mind. It was the day when Cuban jets viciously and mercilessly attacked the HMBS Flamingo in Bahamian waters after the crew of two Cuban fishing vessels was apprehended for poaching.  It was the day he nearly lost his life.

“It wasn’t an accident; it was an incident…May 10th brings back serious memories. Every year, it’s like a punishment.  The sadness isn’t as deep. Time heals anything,” said Mr. Curry, who retired as Force Chief Petty Officer on August 1st, 2011.  When he walked out of those gates, there was a sense of satisfaction that he served his country and served it well for 37 years.

Mr. Curry said he enjoys being around the young people at BTVI; hence, working at the post-secondary educational institution is a good fit for him.  “These young guys make me feel young.  A lot of them stay behind and talk to me and I give advice,” said the part-time instructor, who is touching lives.

He added, “I enjoy expressing myself and teaching them the right way.  I like when they actually get it and they get it perfect. I love teaching.”

Additionally, Mr. Curry, who was 25 at the time of the Cuban attack, vividly remembers the loud, rapid sounds of rocket and machine guns, the engine room erupting in fire, the gaping five-foot hole that punctuated the starboard side of the sleeping quarters and even having his lifejacket stuck in the propeller of a dory while being rescued.

HMBS survivor and Electrical instructor, Gregory H. Curry, addressing prospective BTVI students

“One rocket went right through the galley and exploded.  It was on fire and we were just about to go there to eat before this happened.  Hot metal also burst after the first attack.  One week after the attacks, I was still picking metal out of my back,” he recalled.
Eventually, the HMBS’ captain, Amos Rolle, ordered the crew to abandon ship. “It was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  I dove as deep as I could and all I could see was the bullets shooting through the water,” recollected the survivor of the harrowing experience.

Mr. Curry, who was HMBS’ Electrical Technician and Senior Radio Operator, firmly believed the only reason sharks stayed away was because of the diesel which leaked from the ship’s huge tanks.   He also acknowledged that divine intervention was paramount to his survival.  This is captured in the work of local artist Kishan Munroe, who is currently staging an extraordinary exhibition that throws the spotlight on the painful episode.  Held at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, the exhibition is dubbed, “Swan Song of the Flamingo.”

“Everything we said, he actually painted.  He has a photo of me swimming with two flamingoes holding my jackets, like spirit flamingoes.  I almost cried when I saw it.  It touched me to my very soul,” said Mr. Curry, who said fate had it that the crew was fewer in number that day; otherwise it would have been more disastrous.

Four Defence Force crew members perished in that day’s attack: Able Seaman, Fenrick Sturrup along with Marine Seamen David Tucker, Edward Williams and Austin Smith.

Even when the surviving Defence Force Officers  were able to finally escape and eventually weed their way through bushes on Ragged Island, it was not truly over.  “When day break, a big jet flew over the island several times.  Those people in Ragged Island went crazy. They thought they were under attack.  They terrified the people.  They were as close as 30 feet above ground.  Those people were shaking like leaves,” said Mr. Curry.

The effects of the incident left officers traumatized.  When they were finally able to fly from Ragged Island to New Providence, a stewardess opened a soda and according to Mr. Curry, when it popped, two or three of the men “dove under their seats.  They were still shell shocked.”

BTVI’s Electrical student, Joseph Roberts, is shown here cutting a light switch wire under the watchful eyes of Electrical Installation instructor, Gregory Curry.

Today, life goes on for Mr. Curry.  Due to the experience, the husband and father of three admitted to not being afraid of much.  “It took away a lot of my fears.  Nothing much really frightens me.  I survived that for a reason. I have three sons studying law, medicine and one is a musician.  I survived so they could be here and I await to see their roles in life,” he mused.

By Ms. Hadassah Hall
Public Relations Officer
The Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute

Direct line:         502-6376
Switchboard:      502-6300
Email:                 hallh@btvi.edu.bs
Website:            www.btvi.edu.bs
Twitter:              @BTVI242

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