On May 10, 1980, I was a young university student, beginning my long journey towards a career in medicine. Sitting in school, a thousand miles away, little did I know that tragedy and mayhem were unfolding at home.
I can still remember where I was when the call came from Nassau. Anxiety. Fear. Sadness. Every heartbreaking emotion came to the fore.
Across a transatlantic telephone line, trembling, crying voices of family members were telling me that, nothing was ever going to be the same again.
In my young mind, there were so many questions. What did it all mean? Was our nascent nation suddenly at war with our neighbor?
The Bahamas was oh so young then. Youth is naive.
Not yet 10 years on from independence, we were a country still in the throes of its birthing pains. While Cuba was fighting with sophisticated air defense weapons, we were not that far removed from sticks and stones and conch shells.
Then, it was soon learnt that four Bahamian defense force seamen, Fenrick Sturrup, David Tucker, Edward Williams and Austin Smith were shot dead, as they tried to swim to safety.
Our collective hearts sank in sadness, anger and fear.
They were young Bahamian men, trying to make their way in the world, just like I was.
Without question, the events of May 10, 1980, the sinking of the HMBS Flamingo, began an internal awakening which helped to shape my national consciousness. I believe this was true for many Bahamians at that time.
This event shocked the country out of its post-independence euphoria.
For a moment, the chanting “it was better in The Bahamas” or such like, abruptly stopped. We became the world’s epicenter, not for our sand and sea, but for our vulnerability and naïveté.
We were grossly unprepared for a loss of this kind.
We were unaware that such international conflicts could ever affect our “yeah man; take it easy man” culture.
We were akin to the parable of the foolish brides who did not oil their lamps in preparation. “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”
Some nations always have their lamps oiled. Some frolic on the beach, thinking all days will be sunny.
I cried for my country then. I cry for my country now.
At that time, Prime Minister Lynden Pindling was attending a presentation of the Templeton Prize in Religion at The Guildhall, in London.
In the wake of what was essentially an international act of aggression, reports came that Pindling rushed back to Nassau on a British bomber. Marguerite Pindling gave the address in his abrupt absence.
Though these events occurred in excess of 40 years ago, they are our pinpoints and pivot points in history.
They remain our navigation guides, showing us where we have been, and indeed what uncharted waters may lie ahead.
We continue to recall those who made the supreme sacrifice for our nation.
We shall never forget them or the lessons they taught us.