I was thinking back to the times I enjoyed most as a kid. One of the times happened soon after we moved to Guantanamo Bay in 1960. I was 8 years old, and my brother Gary was 6, and Duane 5.
We listened to the radio at night. There weren’t any TV stations in those days where we were. The programs I remember the most were Gunsmoke, The Phantom, Dick Tracy, The Lone Ranger, I Love Lucy, and Dagwood and Blondie.
The Naval Base provided outdoor movie theaters at no charge. There were different movie locations spread across the base, and the movies were the central location for socializing. My brothers and I really enjoyed a Disney movie, where the lead character was a guy named Kilroy. During WWII, he was famous for drawing a cartoon and signing it “Kilroy was here.” Soon, everyone took up the cause. Kilroy’s were posted everywhere.
Kilroy was here became our message too. Everywhere we went, as a joke, we would write Kilroy was here. Soon you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing it. Kilroy was here was posted on every open surface in our community. Kilroy was here appeared so much that it wasn’t funny to anyone but us. If I took the last Popsicle, I would leave a note, Kilroy was here. My brother Gary took a bar of soap and left the message on the mirror in the bathroom. Kilroy was here. This got such a negative reaction from Mom that she told Dad, and he had to put a stop to it.
I used to visit my Dad at work. Navy tradition has it that anyone in command is called “Captain.” The men that worked for my Dad would say, “Aye, Aye Captain.” I knew he was a Lieutenant but I thought maybe he got promoted. After one particularly terrible report card period, I got the idea to sign my Dad’s name on the back of the report card, to signify the fact that my parents had seen it. I signed it Captain J. R. Frailey. My teacher, aware of military protocol, knew that my Dad hadn’t been promoted 2 or 3 pay grades overnight.
Well, I got in trouble. I was put on class restriction and wasn’t allowed to go out and play like everyone else during recess. The teacher told me to stay in the class room, so I took advantage of the opportunity and wrote Kilroy was here on the inside cover of everyone’s Social Studies book. The bad thing is those books were government property. When my parents found out about that, they were steaming.
I had already toted a couple of ass whoopings. Mom told Dad that I needed some discipline in my life. (Like living on a military base wasn’t discipline enough) Dad asked me if I wanted to join the Cub Scouts. I told him that I did, and the Wolf Patrol was my squad. I got a great, snappy looking blue uniform with gold piping, a pretty cool ball cap, and a bright yellow neckerchief that had the coolest brass clasp in the shape of a wolf’s head.
Cub Scouts was pretty cool. I mean, we didn’t have TV and with the Cub Scouts, I learned to sail a boat. We just went to Special Services and checked one out no charge. All the base services were free to military dependents. I was taught how to tie plenty of cool knots that came in handy when sailing. Mom got mad because I had tied all the cords to the window blinds into decorative knots. We learned how to make a lean-to for emergency shelter, build a fire, comb the jungle for good places to camp, build hammocks out of palm fronds – just all around general stuff, for a boy back in the early 60’s.
I would share the stuff I learned how to do with my brothers. We checked out sailboats (a 14’ Sunfish) on our own, for a day’s worth of sailing in the Bay, mostly off the end of our Peninsula, Radio Point. When sailing the little Sunfish across the bay, we would look for small uninhabited islets as a spot for us to get out and explore. We would look for game tracks, birds’ nests, and search the debris on the beach for useful items. One day, we found a case of red spray paint.
My brothers and I formed our own gang. We called ourselves The Blue Angels. Our friends, Larry and Lon Ward, named their gang The Red Devils. We had friendly encounters daily; they lived on the far end of Radio Point, and we lived at the beginning. Every ball game in our neighborhood, featured the Blue Angels versus the Red Devils. The other kids on the block would align themselves with one side or the other. We were very competitive.
My Dad had to serve as Officer of the Day every 6th day. The O.D. is in charge of everything that happens on the base. He’s the top cop. On these days, Dad would dress in his white uniform, wear an OD arm band and wear a utility belt with a .45 holstered on one side and a loop for a night stick on the other side. He usually had a clip-on flash light, but he would take it off and leave it in the jeep for some reason. Man, I thought Dad looked sharp in that uniform, carrying a Colt .45 automatic on his hip. I gotta tell you, it was better in real life than in the movies.
On days that Dad had the “duty,” he would stop by our house and eat supper with us. I got the bug and would dress up in my Cub Scout uniform, trying to impress my Dad that I was growing up. I begged to go with him. I had stayed out of trouble for a while, did my homework and my Cub Scout thing. Thinking about this, Dad must have figured that I was ready for more responsibility. He gave in and told me that I would have to stay quiet, just observe what happens, and most important, stay out of the way.
We looked sharp, I mean to tell you. Driving around the base, Dad had a SP (Shore Patrol) driver or a BP (Base Police), and sometimes both. The jeep didn’t have a top. Dad rode shotgun, and I stood between his legs, holding on to the top of the windshield.
The back of the jeep had a spotlight, and the hood had a machine gun mount. I bet I looked a sight wearing my Cub Scout uniform, riding in that jeep, with my yellow neckerchief flapping in the wind. Let me tell you, I had the time of my life.
Most of Dad’s “Duty Nights” were calm and boring. Occasionally, there would be a fight at the barracks, or guys would get drunk at the beach and start WW III with pistols and rifles. I saw more damage done after being hit with chunks of coral than bullet wounds. When these times would happen, Dad would send me back to the jeep to get his flashlight and give me the “stay there until I send for you” command.
One of Dad’s Duty Nights, he and I were sitting in his assigned seats at one of the outdoor movie theaters. Right behind us were the bleachers where the civilians sat. They were filled with domestics and enlisted men who were socializing with the females.
I’ll never forget, we were watching Old Yeller. Right in the middle of one of Arliss’s antics, we heard someone coughing and gagging, just behind us. Then someone hollered out, “Somebody help him, he can’t breathe.” Everyone in the stadium turned around to see a sailor in his white uniform bent over gagging, trying to catch his breath. His mates were gathered round, slapping him on the back, trying to dislodge what we found out later to be a mouth full of popcorn.
Dad was in command; he was the Officer of the Deck (O.D.). It was only a few steps to the milling crowd, Dad was there in less than a heartbeat, and I was right behind him in my Cub Scout uniform. Dad told two of his buddies to hold the gagging sailor flat on his back, then he turned to me and told me to hold his flashlight and grabbed my pocket knife. Boy Scouts are taught to always be prepared. Dad instructed me to hold the light steady. I think I almost peed my pants. Dad then took the small blade of my knife and cut the plastic straw from my soda into about a four inch piece. Then he reached down, and after feeling at the base of the thrashing man’s throat with his left hand, he made a one inch incision with my knife, with his right. A small amount of blood appeared, and Dad quickly inserted the straw into the cut. It was ghostly quiet, but suddenly you could hear a whistle-like noise as the man started breathing air in and out of his lungs.
There were several corpsmen in the crowd. They started to appear, but Dad was the one getting clapped on the back this time. They put a temporary bandage on the wound and took the sailor across the street and up the hill to the base hospital for further treatment.
I was amazed. How did Dad know how to do all of that? Later he told me that during the war when he was a torpedo man’s mate, he volunteered to be one of the guys to mount the machine gun on deck when they went “topside.” He said he liked to smoke and this offered him the opportunity to be one of the first on deck, so that he could smoke. He said that’s where he got the nickname Sparky. They were scouting an area in the Aleutian Islands and after mounting the machine gun on the forward deck, they were strafed by a Japanese Zero. Dad said he and his mate ducked down, but his buddy got hit by shrapnel in the throat. He had to hold his friend down on top of the deck while the corpsman performed the same task while still under fire. He said you never forget something like that. He was right.
After about a year of this, things got into a routine. I didn’t have to ask Dad if I could go with him after supper. I was just dressed and ready to go. I always bugged Dad about when we were gonna put the machine gun in the mount, or I would ask, “Dad, can I work the spotlight or next time you use the siren, can I turn it on?”
One day when we were out sailing, my brothers and I saw some Sea Bees in a launch, going from island to island until they found the one they wanted. It had access by an inlet on the leeward side. The jungle thickly surrounded it. After the Sea Bees had left for the day, we snuck up to the secluded island, the best way we could with a 14 foot Sunfish. Someone had installed a fence with a gate to block access through the inlet. A black and red sign read Pellegro and Danger, Do Not Enter. Hey, that wasn’t there before. There was no way we were gonna keep out. The tide was low, and we scooted under the gate after we raised the keel and took the mast down. We scoured the island looking to see what the Sea Bees had been building.
We found a concrete block bunker, locked with a bolted iron bar and set in cement. Then a few feet away, we found a newly built Quonset hut painted camouflage. Oh man, how cool was this? This newly found trove of treasure became our secret fortress. The metal hut was filled to the brim with supplies; canned goods, C-Rats, sleeping bags, hammocks, rope, and all types of survival gear. We decided not to tell Larry and Lon. Their dad was friends with our dad. We didn’t want them telling on us. Just chalk one up for the Blue Angels.
We had gotten into trouble again, by accident. It seems the best beach on the base, was up against the fence that separated the Naval Base from Communist Cuba. It was protected by a mine field. The sign said, “Restricted Area, Keep Out.” We paid about as much attention to that sign as we did the rest of them, after all, our Dad was “Mr. Frailey.”
We had snuck a pack of hot dogs out of Mom’s fridge and we would try to find a path across the minefield by tossing pieces of the hot dogs across the sand leading towards the beach. The base was loaded with wild dogs. Some of these dogs would race each other across the sand to grab that chunk of hot dog. Occasionally there would be a blast. Then someone would come by to investigate the explosion, and we’d be caught. We never got away with anything, but that didn’t stop us from trying.
The good that came out of our slightly mischievous endeavor was that my Dad came up with the idea of tossing the dead dogs’ bodies across the fence. These carcasses provided the means of carrying messages in their mouth to the resistance fighters at the time of the Bay of Pigs. This is documented by copies of Official Government records in the Smithsonian Institution.
One night when Dad had the “Duty,” I was along for the ride. We drove down to the docks where they kept the PBY’s (seaplanes). Out of the hangar nearest to the docks came a group of men. In the dark, it was hard to be sure who they were, but I found out later that these guys were “freedom fighters” who had been trained by the Navy in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. They were going to load up into an “LST,” a group landing craft. The flat bow could be lowered down to admit vehicles or large groups of people, then be taken to a secure location and provided with arms, ammunition, and supplies to complete their mission.
I don’t remember how many men were in the group, but there were plenty. The LST was crowded to the gills. I rode up in the tower with the coxswain, and he steered the vehicle into the night, twisting and turning in the dark so much that he got me mixed up. I couldn’t tell where we were going.
I got the order to turn on the spotlight, when I flicked it on, I could tell immediately right where we were. Stretched across the open waterway was a fence with a gate. On this gate was a sign that read Pellegro, Danger, Keep Out. Someone had taken a can of red spray paint and wrote Kilroy was here. After hearing some cursing in a couple of different languages, the gates were unlocked, we landed at the dock, and everyone disembarked.
I stayed on the boat to operate the light like I was told. They told me to shine the light on the concrete bunker. A big ole smiley face greeted us with the message, Kilroy was here. I wanted to cringe, wishing I was somewhere else. It was a pretty good thing we were on an island because I would have run away that night. The bunker turned out to be the armory. Everything was intact. They started passing out the rifles and ammunition. In the dark, no one could see how red my face was, especially when I was told to shine the spotlight on the Quonset hut. We had broken glass panes on the windows to get in. In the moonlight, with the spotlight shining on it, the round roof of the Quonset hut with a couple of broken windows, kinda looked like a Jack- O-Lantern.
Across the front of the door were the words, Kilroy was here in red spray paint.
I knew Dad was mad, and I was sure that he could guess who the culprits were. I was afraid that he’d let me have it right then and there, but he kept on like he didn’t have a clue. When they opened the doors, they could see how it had been ransacked. Cardboard boxes of C-Rats had been opened and looted. Hammocks were stretched across the room, tied with beautiful “four leaf clover” knots. The Kilroy logo was painted across everything. Ponchos were scattered everywhere, sleeping bags and backpacks torn apart. It looked like a band of desperadoes had hit the place, not three pre- teenage boys.
On the jeep ride back home that night, Dad didn’t say a word. I was sure glad too. I figured he didn’t want to holler at me in front of the driver. I just knew I was gonna get it when I got home. When we entered the house, Dad took off his cap with the OD insignia on it and set it down. My Mom asked him how it went, Dad let out his breath like he’d been holding it for a long time. He said, “Honey, you aren’t going to believe it. Gordon Ward’s boys, oh hell, I can’t believe it, those two Red Devils have been at it again. They broke into the supply hut out in the bay, looted it, and spray painted graffiti in red paint all over everything.”
I never told him any different.