Guantanamo Bay

Ever sail one of these? It’s called a “Sunfish”, a day sailer. Just about the easiest sailboat to maneuver, you’ll ever find.

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Living in Guantanamo was confining at times. It was such a small Naval Base, near the center of the Caribbean Ocean.  During summer vacation, the dependent school children were offered a variety of summer sports programs to attend.  The first step was safety education, the “rules” do this, don’t do that.

The first summer we were in GTMO, mom had us take swimming classes, even Duane. In didn’t take him long, he was at home in the water, his disabilities didn’t add up to much, the waters made him buoyant.
We also took tennis and golf lessons, Mom figured that Officer’s children should know how to play tennis and golf.  Another reason might be that the Captain’s wife taught tennis, it might get her an invite to cocktails.
The second year we were there, We took sailing lessons at Special Services to get checked out on a Sunfish, a real small, cute little sailboat.  This boat was big enough for two adults, or as in our case, three small boys. We could go down to the marina and check one out for the day.  Special Services was kinda like a sporting goods library. You could check out any piece of equipment you wanted at no charge, you just had to bring it back when you were finished with it.

Sailing isn’t as hard as it looks. With the wind, no brainer, if you want to go left, push the tiller to the right and visa versa. Sailing against the wind, was a littler tougher. You pick out the point on the horizon where you want to end up and with the use of the tiller, you aim either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock, keeping your destination in the corner of your eye. That’s called a tack, you run out the tack until you can’t go any further, then you “come about”, and run before the wind in the opposite direction, always moving forward.  If you want more speed you use a full sail and if the wind gets too brisk, lower the sail. If you use too much sail on a tack, you’ll probably tip over and capsize. Then everybody loads up on one side and tips it back up right, bail out the water and keep going.

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The bay was a beautiful place, to pre-teen age boys, it was paradise.  Mom kept a ship’s bell on the cliff, right next to a pair of ship’s binoculars, mounted on a swivel, to keep an eye on us.  We got to explore small islands, atolls (under water islands), reefs, bays etc.  Sometimes a large shark would decide to check us out, the Sunfish was 14 foot, I remember a hammerhead trying to pin us up in a small lagoon, being every bit of 14 foot. We beached the boat, even though we heard Mom’s bell going off high up on the cliff at the end of Radio Point, we stayed put until the shark left to play his games somewhere else.

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Boys without toys find something else to do, to tickle there fancy.  We climbed trees, hunted iguanas and bird’s nests, gigged frogs, gathered wild fruit, explored mysterious trails and when we weren’t allowed to go out on the reef or hunt in the jungle, we found other things to do.

Our dad had multiple duties.  He was the Asst. Admin Officer, the Discipline Officer, the Barracks Officer, Naval Intelligence Officer (I & E) and the Postal Officer.  He couldn’t be every where at once.  We knew that and had his schedule imprinted in our brains, so that we could show up where he wasn’t, to reap the benefits of being Mr. Frailey’s sons.

As the Discipline Officer, it was up to Dad to decide if minor infractions of the Code of Military Justice warranted a Captain’s Mass or other minor forms of punishment, like “extra duty.”  Extra duty could entail a lot of things, one of them being to serve as baby sitters for his 3 boys, while Dad and Mom went to the “O” Club for a couple of hours.

Since we didn’t have TV on the base, these wayward sailors would find other means to occupy our time.  We learned to cuss like “a sailor” early in life, much to our parent’s chagrin.  One of the first things I remember was learning to sit on my knees and disassemble a Colt .45 automatic.  I know what your thinking, I was only 8 years old true enough, but my brothers were 6 and 5.  They learned too.

The barrel bushing is the first piece off and the last back on.  It holds the barrel slide in place.  If I remember right, there were 9 pieces all told, including the magazine.  Be careful not to lose the spring.  We were shown how to place each piece in order, from left to right, easy to reach as we disassembled and reassembled the piece.  Once we mastered this technique, off would go the lights.  You’ve heard of doing something blindfolded, well turning out the lights has the same effect.

Next, we learned hand to hand combat techniques. How to grab some one from behind with your left hand under your foes chin and tilt it upwards as you stick your bayonet in his kidney, then twist it, to prevent him from hollering out.  Of course we didn’t use a real bayonet (at first).  Depending on the skills of the guy that kept an eye on us, sometimes it was “Ski” or “Tommy” for Thompson, “Smitty,” “Brownie,” on down the line, each with special skills. We learned to make Malatov Cocktails, how to use semaphore, Morse code, how to use flags to signal landing instructions to a jet on an aircraft carrier, Military jargon, the “P’s and Q’s” of the Black shoe Navy.  How to use you’re your clothes as a flotation device if you were ever on a boat that sank came in handy a time or two, we were always flipping a Sunfish over.

Yeah, we  grew up before our time.  We turned out to be some mean little shits.  Dad always called us his “Strikers,” a military term for midshipmen.  To us, there was no “hallowed ground.”  Nothing was safe.  Sure, we got caught, it was a small naval base, we always got caught and being the Discipline Officer, Dad saw to it that we always got punished.

Our house didn’t have a bath room, it was called the “head.”  Same with the floor, it was called the deck, the walls were called the bulkhead, and the mop was a swab.  When we walked anywhere in Dad’s view, in was in military alignment, no straggling.  Reveille was at 0600 hours, our beds were made by 06:30 hours, we scoured the reefs to see what treasures the outgoing tide had left us overnight.  At 07:30 hours we got ready for school, caught the bus at 0800 to further upgrade our education, always with a military slant.

Because of the heat, school was from 0800 to 1100, then a two hour lunch break.  The buses would take us home for lunch/siesta, then pick us up and it was back to school from 1300 to 1500 hours, Taps was at 2200 hours, that meant lights out.

After school, depending on the day of the month, we would look for our Dad where we knew he wasn’t.  We would check out the Admin Office when we knew he was doing Barracks inspections, just so we could sit at his desk, look for his cigarettes, drink coffee and eat doughnuts.  The Operations Office was next door with a glass partition in between.  We could see on a chart mounted on the wall just what ships were due in and at what dock they were going to berthed.   My brothers would take a grease pencil when no one was watching and write “Kilroy was here,” on the plexi-glass chart, a military joke.  We also wanted to see what dates ships were coming or going, the reason being that on the incoming ships the guys debarking from the ship would carry boxes of comic books and magazines that we could buy really cheap.  After a two to six month cruise, these books had been read from cover to cover. Two or three dollars would get a whole box.   The ships that were departing on a lengthy cruise would be good customers for what ever fruit we could gather.  Coconuts, bananas, pomegranates, avocadoes, mommasitos (Cuban Grapes), tamarinds, mangoes and more.  Scurvy was the scourge of the fleet.  No one could have enough fruit on a lengthy voyage.  We earned plenty of pocket money selling boxes of fruit.

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On days that our Dad was holding Captain’s Mass at the Admin Office, we would scoot down to the Post Office “looking “ for Dad.  Nonchalantly we would help the guys sort the mail, always looking for contraband.  Guys that has been transferred or their enlistments were up would have their mail stored in a “dead file” pending receipt of a forwarding address.  Sometimes suspicious packages needed to be searched.  We felt it our duty to give a hand in this regard.  Every suspicious package that smelled like fruit cake or cookies needed to be checked and sampled, we were duty bound.  It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.  Cuban cigars were considered contraband, but it seems like everyone was sending them home to the States.  We would sit at Dad’s empty desk and go through his drawers, find some “Monte Cristoes or a couple of “Presidentials” and help ourselves, filling our pockets with stogies when no one was looking.  Like I said before, we always got caught, but we were Mr. Frailey’s sons, the guys working were the same guys that watched us at night when our folks were off having cocktails and hors devours.  I could read as good as anybody there and would help sort mail, I loved doing it, to me, it wasn’t what I would call work, more like killing time so that I could find something else to get in to.

The “Lucky Bag,” was where they kept old uniforms, from guys who’s enlistment was up or guys that changed pay grades or like when a guy was transferred in from up north and he would discard his winter gear for summer uniforms.  We were too small to wear most of the stuff, but some times we would find a pair of shoes that fit.  The base didn’t have a shoe store, which was okay, we didn’t like to wear shoes anyway but when you are out on the reef, walking on sharp coral, it doesn’t hurt to have something on your feet.  Our special interest was in gathering old ammo belts and enlisted men’s white hats, sometimes a poncho or a back pack.  Leggings were of special interest too when we went on jungle excursions.

Heathens you might think.  Yeah, we were called heathens plenty enough, and some other salty names come to mind too.  Especially after my youngest brother Duane tried to light a Malatov Cocktail one night after we snuck out of the house.  We were behind the Navy Exchange were the gas pumps were, filling old rum bottles with gasoline.  Duane wanted to light one up just to check it out.  I told him to go ahead, just throw it on the pavement and run.  Well, he pulled out a Zippo lighter that we had com-shawed from one of Dad’s desk and tried to light the rag sticking out above the neck of the bottle, when he did, the excess gas that had spilled on his arm lit him up, causing Duane to toss the bottle up in the air.  It land up against the dumpster next to a bunch of pallets leaning up against the Navy Exchange.  We ran home once we realized that the fire was out of control, to act like we had been in bed the whole time.  The fire alarm could be heard all across the base, a signal for volunteers to come hither.  Of course we some of the first “volunteers” there.  We weren’t allowed to participate, just watch.  When we saw the firefighters were tossing ammo out of the sporting goods area into a dry ditch, we quickly took the opportunity to move as many boxes of ammunition into a nearby culvert.  Later after the fury had calmed down, we moved these boxes of shot gun shells and rifle and pistol bullets to our “fort,” a cave that we had dug into the cliff below our house.

We had already been taught by Smitty or Tommy how to separate the gun powder from the casing.  We knew how to wrap this gunpowder in tin foil with BBs from the shotgun shells to make a little explosive device that would make a loud pop when tossed against a hard object.  We didn’t actually get caught until later when we tried to use them against the military police during “Operation NEGDEF.”  (Defensive maneuvers preparing against Castro

We used home made bolos to catch iguanas, slingshots to kill chukka, spears that we made at Public Works to gig moray eels and longusta and “billy clubs” that we got from the Shore Patrol as our first line of defense against javelinas.  We used all of these weapons and more almost everyday.  We lived in Guantanamo for four years.  I don’t know if we just got use to our environment, or if they just got use to us. It was our Utopia, our Shangri-la.  I never wanted to leave, but all little boys must grow up, I don’t know if the base was the same with out us or not, but my brothers and I carried a little piece of Gitmo with us the rest of our lives.

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