“Colors”

 

“Colors” that’s the name of the tune the bugler blows of a morning when the color guard raises the flag and of the evening when it’s taken down.  Then with swift military precision, it’s folded into a tri-corner, tucked under the arm pit of the “corporal of the guard” while he marches off the podium.

Called an Ensign on board ship, it is also known as our national flag.  When flown upside down, is used as a “distress signal.”

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, living on a military base in Guantanamo where my Dad was stationed, military etiquette and protocol was of the utmost importance.  Everything was done by the book.

For Christmas in 1960, Santa brought me two Bobbsey Twin books that got me interested in reading.  After I finished reading them, Dad got me a copy of “The Blue Jackets Manual”, the enlisted men’s bible.  In it was the Enlisted Men’s guide to military life.

General orders, how to fold your clothes, make your bed, military drills, oral commands, military protocol, how to tie knots and the do’s and don’ts, essential for life above and below deck.

One Saturday morning before a monthly inspection at 1300 hours, Dad was wearing his dress whites; he and I went by the barber shop to get our ears lowered.  It was a father and son thing, we did it every Saturday.  Three sailors in their dress whites passed us going in the opposite direction.  They must have been “reserves.”  Instead of saluting Dad, they turned their heads the other way as if they didn’t see him and walked past.

My Dad was a Mustanger, he came up through the ranks, in the “Blackshoe Navy”.  He once told me that below decks is where he grew up.  When he walked, he looked like Popeye the Sailor, strolling with his arms bent swinging from side to side.  He even had a tattoo in the same place, an eagle with open wings carrying a torpedo in its claws.

No telling what these three sailors had on their mind that morning.  I am sure that tangling with my Dad never entered their heads.  Dad barked out “Attention on deck.”

The guys stopped walking away from us and turned around.  The biggest guy was pretty good sized; he looked down at Dad and said “Are you talking to me, whattaya want?”

Dad pointed to his shoulder boards that showed his rank of Ensign and told the big guy that when you see a man wearing these, you salute and you hold that salute until it’s returned.  He pointed at the flag waving from the top of the flagpole in front of the barber shop.  He said “When you salute me, you are saluting that flag and all that it stands for.  If I let you disrespect me, then I’m letting you disrespect that flag.”  He said “I can’t tell you how many men, better than you, fought and died for that flag.  I want you to stand at attention and salute me and salute that flag until I tell you to carry on.

The three men were wearing green chevrons on their whites.  This signified that they weren’t Black shoe, but “Airedales”, (a different Navy altogether) probably off the aircraft carrier “Forestall” that was in port.  The three of them formed a semi-circle around Dad.  The big guy in the middle told Dad that he wasn’t stationed on this base and didn’t have to salute officers of other commands and that if he wasn’t wearing those shoulder boards he would teach him a lesson about being a smart ass.

No sooner did he say that, than Dad started peeling off his shirt and handed it to me to hold for him.  Dad told him he was fixing to get his wish.  Then he turned to the three enlisted men and jerked his thumb towards the dumpster and said “Now is your chance to be a big shot, bring your buddies with you.  Let’s step behind this dumpster and we’ll forget about rank for a minute.”

Thinking back, I had to of been 8 years old, because when I was 9, my brothers and I accidentally set fire to that dumpster and the Navy Exchange practicing with Molotov Cocktails.  After that, they moved the dumpster to the other side of the building by the galley.

This whole shebang didn’t last more than about 20 seconds.  Dad always told me that it isn’t always the size of the man in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the man.  The enlisted man was a bully at heart, using his size to intimidate folks.  It didn’t work on Dad.  They squared off, the big man held his fists up to box like old timey boxers do and Dad sailed in with a punch to the man’s gut, when he doubled up Dad caught him right in the nose with an over hand right and it was over.  He went down like a ton of lead.

Dad turned to the two onlookers, rubbing his fist and asked “Who wants to be next?”  They both said “Not me, it was him” pointing to their fallen comrade.  Dad helped his bloody foe up, brushed him off, and gave him his handkerchief to stop the flow of blood coming from his nose.  He told the three men that he wanted them to stand at attention and salute that flag while he got his haircut.  Then he put his uniform shirt back on.  He told them that he would be watching them from the inside of the barber shop.  He said “Don’t make me come back out here and take my shirt off again.”

We went inside the barber shop.  I was first, I wore my crew cut proudly, I wanted to be just like my Dad.  When the Barber finished he dusted my neck with talcum powder and shook the cut hair off of the smock with a loud pop.  Just about that time, Admiral O’Neal entered, nodding to every one inside and pointed to the three men outside standing at attention and saluting the flag.  He said “A fine display of Military Justice no doubt, making boys into men, I love it.”

Rank has its privileges; Dad stood at attention when the Admiral entered the barber shop, he didn’t salute because it was indoors but he sat back down in his chair and let the Admiral go ahead of him for his haircut.  The Admiral and the barber talked about how the carrier that was in port was hooked up to the base water supply, desalinating water from the ocean to make drinking water for the base, since “Fidel” was up to his “shenanigans” again.  When the Admiral’s haircut was finished, the barber held up a bottle of greenish liquid and asked him if he was ready for some “Foo Foo Juice” to make him smell better.  The Admiral said “Hell no, my wife will swear up and down that I’ve been in a French Whorehouse.”  When the Admiral left the Barber Shop he walked a circle around the three sailors saluting the flag in the hot boiling sun.  He smiled, shook his head and walked away without saying anything.

The barber swept the loose ends of the Admiral’s hair off the chair and said “Who’s next?”

Dad stood up, took his place in the chair with his back towards the front of the building, but was continuously keeping the wayward sailors in his vision by staring into the mirror.  When the barber finished, he grabbed the same bottle of green liquid and asked Dad if he wanted a shot of smell good.  “Foo Foo Juice?”  Dad told him “Sure thing, go ahead, my wife ain’t never been in no French whorehouse.

When Dad left the barber shop, he walked up to the sailors still standing at attention, staring at the flagpole and saluting our flag.  He stood at attention, saluted the flag, then turned to the sailors and returning their salute and said “Carry on men, as you were.”  He told them to remember, “that when you salute me, you are saluting that flag and America, for which is stands.”

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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Gitmo

 

 

The 57th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis has just passed, this is my version of the events.

Dad made Senior Chief back in ’58, he applied for LDO (Limited Duty Officer) soon afterwards.  I was in the first grade at school.  He wrangled a slot in Officer’s Candidate School in Quonset Point Rhode Island. He graduated and became an Ensign, an Officer and a Gentleman by an act of Congress.

He took his appointment serious, never wavering.  Mom was proud of him.  She had told him years earlier that she wouldn’t marry him unless he promised to work and strive for promotion.  He didn’t disappoint her.

The military has a rule, that if an enlisted men gets promoted to an Officer’s status, he can’t serve with enlisted men that he shared a duty station with.  Soon after, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.  His duty slot was Assistant Administration Officer.  It was a small base, his other duties included Discipline Officer, Barracks Officer, Naval Intelligence and the Postal Officer, many more.
He went ahead of the rest of the family to secure a housing berth and give Mom time to sell our house, put the cars in storage along with our household effects then get her, my brothers and I, the necessary shots required to go overseas.

At the time we left my favorite TV shows were Hop a Long Cassidy, Ozzie and Harriet and the Mickey Mouse Club. I remember that when we left, Annette was wearing pig tails, white blouses with a plaid skirt and black and white saddle oxfords.  Jimmy? Oh yeah Jimmy, well he still had freckles.  We returned to the U.S., Annette was wearing a bra and Jimmy was smoking stogies.

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Growing up on Naval base in Cuba was a kid’s paradise.  We ran wild, within limits, especially since we couldn’t go off the base.  My two brothers and I, Gary and Duane never had any toys, there wasn’t any TV, so we entertained ourselves the best way we knew how.  Most nights we listened to the radio.  My favorite programs were Gunsmoke, the Phantom, Dagwood and Blondie and the Lone Ranger.

When we arrived on a MATS flight (Military Air Transport) to join Dad in September of 1960 at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Mom had one large suitcase.  Half of it was her clothes and the other half were our clothes, no room for games or toys.  I was just starting the 3rd grade, so I guess that made me about 8 years old, Gary was 6 and Duane was 5.  If you needed anything of importance, you could usually go to Special Services and check it out, furniture, house wares, sporting goods, tools etc.

We got to play during recess at school with playground equipment, but at home it was pretty much what ever we could find to do on our own.  We invented games involving throwing rocks because we lived on a gravel road. We got in trouble for throwing rocks at buildings and vehicles, so instead we made up games that involved throwing them at each other.

 

We found a bicycle in the gully at the bottom of a cliff.  It was a godsend.  It didn’t have a chain, so no brakes, it was missing the rubber tire on the back rim but we could still ride it, if we pointed it down the hill we lived on and hung on for dear life.  At the bottom of the hill was Sherman Blvd.  It was the main drag throughout the base with a fair amount of traffic.  To stop the bike, to keep from running head on into oncoming vehicles we would put one foot down and try to lay the bike down on it’s side.  Sometimes we would get scrapes and bruises, just rip the hide off of our knees and elbows.  We ended up using a piece of rope for a rear tire.

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My youngest brother Duane had Cerebral Palsy.  He was crippled from birth.  Mom wouldn’t allow us to baby him or favor him in any way.  He did what we did or we weren’t allowed to do it.  When it came time for Duane to point the bike downhill, he wasn’t able to lay it down to stop, most of the time he would just go straight across the highway, through oncoming traffic and the brush on the other side, down the ravine where we found the bike.

Since all vehicles had to be shipped in, the unwritten rule in effect was that you could buy a car from someone being transferred out, for a certain price and when you were transferred you sold the car to someone else for the same price. Most of the cars were mid ‘50’s vintage, black, dark green or gray.

The social caste of the base was arranged by color I think. No, not racial color, the color of the clothes people wore. The leisure uniform of the Officers was white and so was the working uniform of the Filipinos that served them, but they just wore tee shirts instead of a regular shirt. Unless the Officers were working, then they wore khakis. The non-coms (Chiefs) always wore khaki. The uniform of the day for Enlisted personnel was usually dungarees, except for Inspection, then it was dress whites. The service personnel that took care of the mundane duties, like groundskeepers and laundry workers, usually wore white T-shirts and khaki pants with straw hats. Military dependents could wear what they wanted to, but it was usually something white or light colored because of the heat.  If someone was wearing bright colored clothes it was usually after dark or they had just recently arrived.

Dad was an Ensign when we invaded Guantanamo.  We lived at 1 Radio Point, in the Officer’s housing area.  The first house across from the BOQ, Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, where the unmarried Officers lived and visiting dignitaries.  Behind the BOQ lived the Filipino servants.  Behind our house and down the cliff, was Public Works.  The shops for all of the maintenance gear on the base.

The Public Works yard (down the cliff below us) was cluttered up with ancient earth moving equipment from the construction of the Panama Canal.  We played and climbed the old rusty dinosaur-like cranes and bulldozers almost everyday, almost like “Monkey Bars” at the park.  Graffiti and initials covered the old equipment much like the hand prints in the sidewalk of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  We would imagine that the old rusty stuff still worked and we were lifting debris and bulldozing roads.

Further out Radio Point, surrounding the giant Radio Tower that received the communications that kept the base informed, were more Officer’s quarters.  The Captain and the Admiral lived at the very end of the point, (the point was covered on 3 sides by water).  Down the cliffs were docks and at the end of the point were man made reefs constructed from sunken barges and piles of concrete debris that ran out about a quarter of a mile.

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This area, was our Shangri-la.  We played on the reefs at low tide every day, looking to spear fish in shallow pools, collect whatever goodies the tide brought up and do what boys do.  We lifted every rock to see what was under it, clam shells, starfish, sea urchins any type of sea creature would we could capture to sell to the Filipinos.

The Filipinos believed in eating fresh killed meat.  They liked to butcher it themselves in accordance with their religious rituals.  We sometimes made a dollar a day, more if we went out on the reef and caught a moray eel or a stingray.  We broaden our horizons by venturing out into the nearby jungles that were down in the valleys between each hill, to hunt for wild game.

Our first conquest were wild pigs, we later learned they are called “javelinas”. The Filipinos would give us five bucks for a young pig. We weren’t that scared of them because they weren’t that big, but they were aggressive so we treated them with caution.  We knew where to look for them, they loved prickly cactus pears and at the bottom of every hill, there was a muddy puddle and a cactus patch.  Leading up from the creek we would find a tree with overhanging branches and Gary and I would find a place to perch over the trail while Duane would start throwing rocks at a group of feeding pigs to get their attention.

Then he would turn and run as fast as he could up the trail toward me and Gary.  The pigs would give chase after Duane but he would get to the tree line ahead of them in time for Gary and I to reach down and grab him and pull him up.  Then, while the pigs were milling about we would use a forked tree branch to pin a young one to the ground and sometimes stabbing the momma pig so she would run off.

After we caught a pig and made our trade with the Filipinos we would watch them butcher the pig by hanging it upside down and cutting it’s throat, catching the blood in a large metal pan about three feet wide (much like a sugar cane boiling pot but smaller). They would use this blood to boil their rice in, yuck is what we thought, but we would take the money we made and go to the Navy Exchange and buy comic books, bubble gum and candy bars.

We didn’t just hunt pigs, the biggest item in demand by the Filipinos were hummingbirds.  The old men would use them as aphrodisiacs.  We built small bow and arrows out of palm fronds and tipped them with needles from Mom’s sewing machine case, wrapping thread around the base of the needle joining it to the tip of the arrow and putting clear paper glue over top.  When we shot at them, we aimed just above them and pinned their wings to the tree and capture them alive.

.We also caught chameleons and iguanas with bolos that sailors showed us how to make and three foot long banana rats, tarantulas and snakes, mostly pythons.  We got our ass tore up when Dad heard about us catching pythons and boas.  We found a dried up pond where we could dig down through the cracked, dried cakes of mud and find frogs the size of a football.  These frogs would fill their bellies with rain water and then hibernate until the rainy season came again.

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As the years progressed we got to be pretty good hunters.  At night we would sneak out of the house to go out on the reef with a kerosene lantern and turn over rocks with a potato rake and gig longoustinos.  Longoustinos are like a lobster except they don’t have claws, we sometimes would get eels, octopi or coconut crabs.  We would get spotted by the Base Police (sometimes MP’s and sometimes the Shore Patrol), they worked for Dad so we didn’t get in any trouble with them, they would just call Dad and tell him they saw us doing this or that, we’d get a beating  yes, but the next night, we’d do it again.

Dad got to where he would rake the ground under our window, just to see if we left any footprints from the night before.  After we learned this, we started to climb out on tree limbs, so we wouldn’t leave any tracks.

Tree climbing, before I forget, boys without toys love to climb trees. We had pathways in the many trees that filled our front yard and lined the street.  We called it “hitchhiking”, when we would climb from one tree to the next without touching the ground. Our backyard had 28 mango trees.  Oh how I hated mangoes, but that was the best place to catch tarantulas.  I didn’t like to eat mangoes, though sometimes we did make a pretty good tasting mango ice cream out of them.

Our first Christmas, Dad had promised me a .22 rifle and my brothers and I, new bicycles.  Every thing had to be ordered through the mail from Sears and Roebuck or JC Penny’s.  Christmas came and went, no bicycles or rifle.  I got two Bobbsey Twin books which I read cover to cover.  Then I got my own library card and that opened a new world to me.

The library was just a few blocks away, even closer if I took the path behind the BOQ, down the ravine and up the next hill.  I read every Bobbsey twin book and then read the Hardy Boy’s Mysteries.  I think that’s where my thirst for adventure originated from.

Eventually we got our bikes, but I got sick of waiting for that rifle.  Dad finally took me down to the Armory, he was in charge of that too, and he checked out a 1906 Springfield 30.06 bolt action with a 3 shot clip.  He told me that if I completed a gun safety course at the rifle range, that I could use it until my rifle finally arrived.

Oh yeah, I was in my own world then. I completed the class and from then on every Saturday after I got my haircut. I would ride the bus with my 30.06 in it’s case to the rifle range and target shoot a box of shells.  Sometimes I used my imagination and pretended that the targets were Cuban solders getting ready to shoot at me and Teddy Roosevelt while we were charging up San Juan Hill.

The .22 shells were $1.05 but the 30.06 shells were $6.00.  That was a lot of money for a 9 year old, but the desire for money was in me and we hustled every dime we could.  When the .22 finally came in the mail I was mad.  I didn’t want that pea shooter.  Dad had ordered my brothers rifles too.  I think he was apprehensive about Castro invading the base and he wanted to make sure that we were able to defend ourselves.

Dad and I spent a lot of time at the Hobby Shop at night, building an eighteen foot Cabin Cruiser.  We sculpted the keel and the hull, built the ribs and covered it with plywood, which we fastened to the frame with Weldwood glue and brass screws, using a brace and bit.  That could be where I got my love for building stuff, it was something that my Dad and I accomplished together.

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During the summers the base provided enrichment courses that kids could enroll in, depending on the interest.  Our first year, Mom made sure we all enrolled in swimming classes. Then I took tennis lessons and Gary took golf lessons. The next year we all enrolled in a sailing course.  We could go down to Special Services and check out a 14 foot Sunfish.  We became adept sailors at a very young age.  The object being to keep your destination between 10 o’clock and two o’clock, tack left to go right or steer to the right to go left.

Mom would walk down to the Captain’s house at the end of the point and use his binoculars that were mounted on a stand, to keep and eye on us.  When it was time for supper or the tide was about to change she would ring the gong on the huge ship’s bell that was mounted next to it.  We knew better than to ignore her, no matter how much fun we were having.

There wasn’t any TV to watch, no cartoons.  Once a month the base would televise a World Series baseball game that they had on tape from three or four years before.

The third summer, we took diving lessons.  We had instructors to teach us they “dos and don’ts”, even though Duane was crippled on land, he could swim like a fish in the water.

Baseball was our sport of choice.  The diamond must have been an old grenade practice range and after many years of being baked in the sun, the infield was deadly.  Our coaches were usually officers with sons that wanted to play ball.  Once a month we would load up on a plane and fly to a base on another island to play against their team.  I got to visit many places that most folks just dream about.

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Our Dad was the Asst Admin Officer when we first arrived at the base, he was promoted to the Admin Officer and had many other duties.  He was also the Postal Officer, Discipline Officer, Naval Intelligence Officer, the Barracks Officer in fact he had so many duties I don’t know how he kept track of them all.

Being the Discipline Officer his job was to dispense punishment for infractions to the Code of Military Justice.  Sometimes men with minor infractions were invited to babysit my brothers and I to avoid a “Captain’s Mast,” while my parents went to the Officer’s Club.

These guys thought it was funny to teach us to cuss and fight hand to hand, we were shown how to disassemble and reassemble a Colt .45 blindfolded.  It all starts and ends with the “barrel bushing.”  Squatting with our knees folded under us and place the parts in front of us in the order we took them off, so they would be in order when we needed them to put it back together.  We were taught hand to hand combat and staged mini fights in our living room, how to stab a guy from behind with a bayonet in the kidneys and twist the blade so the victim couldn’t holler out..

Some of the guys taught us semaphore, how to communicate with flags, morse code, tie knots and make Malatov cocktails.  Soon afterwards, we were behind the Navy Exchange practicing with the Malatov Cocktails.  Duane lit the rag and threw the bottle up against the dumpster.  The dumpster caught on fire, then the Exchange caught fire.  When the Fire Brigade got there, they started tossing out the flammables.  When they started tossing out the ammunition, Gary and I were standing in the crowd of onlookers, we started grabbing boxes and cases and hid them in a culvert.

We ended up with cases and cases of shotgun, rifle and pistol shells. We came back the next night and hid them in our “fort”, a hideout we had built on the cliff below our house. We had been shown how to take the gunpowder from a shotgun shell and the BB’s, wrap them in tinfoil and make a little bomb.  All we needed to do was throw it up against something solid and it would explode.

It wasn’t long after that, we started filling coconut shells with gunpowder, we made light able fuses out of shoestrings dipped in lighter fluid. When we had to gather all of the rotten mangoes out of our yard, we used a wheel barrow and dumped hem into the ocean. When the fish would gather to feed off of the rotted fruit, Duane would drop coconut bombs on them and watch them float belly up.   We never got away with anything, we always got caught and we always got beat, by Dad or Mom, but it didn’t stop us.

Dad beat us with big branches and Mom preferred the supple willow branches, either one did the job.

The base was saturated with outdoor movie theaters, at least five.  The Officer’s had their section, the enlisted had theirs and so did the civilians.  I think there were 5 in all. We sat in lawn chairs outside when the weather was good.

One night when Dad was the OD (Officer of the Day), I accompanied him to the theatre by the PBY’s (sea planes).  We were watching “Ole Yellar” and a guy hollered out “Somebody help him he can’t breathe”.

It was coming from right behind us in the civilian section, where the enlisted men would sit with civilian women that worked on the base as maids.  There was a young sailor bent over choking and gagging, his buddies were slapping him on the back, trying to dislodge whatever he had caught in his throat.

I had been sitting next to my Dad as his guest in his designated seat as Officer of the Day.  I had been whittling with the knife dad had bought for my birthday.  As I stood staring at the crowd, Dad grabbed the knife out of my hand and flipped out the smallest blade.  He went to the young sailor and had his friends hold him down on the ground, flat on his back.  Dad gave me his flashlight to hold steady on the man’s throat and reached down and made an up and down incision above the breastbone in the small hollow spot on the man’s throat.  Then he grabbed the straw out of the drink I had left in the chair, cut it to about four inches and placed it in the incision.

Just has soon as the straw was in place, you could hear his breath like a whistle coming through.  He was going to be alright, hooray.  The base Hospital was on the other end of the base, a corpsman that had been watching the movie rushed the guy to the emergency room.
I was amazed at my Dad. I asked him how did he know how to do that.?  He told me that as an enlisted man back in WWII, his buddy had caught a piece of shrapnel in the throat from a Japanese Zero while they were mounting the anti-aircraft gun on a submarine deck while they were topside.  He said he held the guy down while the corpsman operated.  He said he never forgot it, stuff like that sticks with you.

I’ve been wanting to tell this story for more than 50 years and I don’t want to leave anything out.  I might have to go back here and there to fill in some gaps, so bear with me.
I haven’t told y’all about the Bob Hope USO shows. Every Christmas, Mr.Bob would start his annual USO show in GTMO (Military acronym is GTMO, civilians use Gitmo, but it’s the same place).

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His troupe would be there for two or three days depending on the weather.  GTMO was his “shakedown cruise”.  They stayed at the BOQ across the street from our house.  Mom looked forward to it, she was an entertainer herself in her own way.  She knew that the bar at the BOQ wasn’t completely stocked, they usually just had rum, the drink of the Caribbean.  She stocked Vodka, Gin, Vermouth along with Bourbons from Kentucky, Scotch you name, she had it.  Mom was a member of the Navy Wives Club and knew a thing or two about socializing.  She liked to sing and dance.  She told me that she had once sang backup with Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio in her early years, in the nearby town of Baxley, Ga.

At night after the USO show, Mom would send me over to the bar at the BOQ searching for olives for her “Martinis”.  My job was to lollygag so she could come in search of me and she would introduce herself to the “stars”, and then invite them over for drinks.

One thing would lead to another and then there would be a crowd at the house. My brothers and I would peek out from our bedrooms to see Mom laughing it up with Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Perry Como and Dad dancing with Anita Bryant or Sandra Dee or a drunken ZaZa Gabor sprawled out on our couch.

Mr Bob liked to play golf and asked me if I knew how to caddie.  I said “Sure Mr Hope” and he said “just call me Bob like every body else” and Mom told him “We’re from the south, and my boys better call you Mr. Bob”.  I caddied for him twice.  The second year he was drinking rum in the hot sun, a definite “no-no”.  An iguana ran up to the hole after he dropped his putt in the hole and ran off with the ball in its mouth.

I had a set of bolos in the golf bag, because the golf course is where we hunted iguanas, I tossed the bolos before he got to the rocks and retrieved his ball.  When I turned to give him back his ball, Mr Bob was stretched out on the green, passed out.  I guess he fainted.  The next year he didn’t want to play golf, we played tennis.

Mom had been one of the members of the Navy Wives Club to organize a “Carnivale” charity event to benefit enlisted personnel when they needed emergency funds. She was able to talk Ms. Gabor and Ms. Bryant to dance with her at the show, while the men did a “Limbo” routine.

Dad and Perry Como did a “Homer and Jethro” act. They smeared burnt cork on their faces and put black wax over their teeth to make them look like hillbillys.  They wore straw hats and white deck pants and shirts.  Dad played a number ten washtub with a broom stick sticking up out of it with a string tied from the top of the broom stick to the top of the overturned tub, it made a pretty god base fiddle and Mr. Perry played a banjo, made from a bed slat and a pie pan, strung with fishing line.

I can remember the song they sang. “Fancination, She’s too fat in the first place, you know it’s true.  She’s too fat, in the second place too.  Turn me loose, from your caboose blubber.  Let me scat like a cat, away from you.  She had nine buttons on her night gown, but could only fasten eight”.  I guess you had to of been there. It was funny then and still is to me now, over 50 years later.

The base newspaper was named the GTMO Gazette, it came out three times a week. It ran important stories from the AP on the front page, listed events and promotions, the uniform of the day and on the back page listed the menu for the base Galley, where military personnel ate.

Sometimes the Officer’s Club would organize junkets to different islands in the Caribbean.  Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados etc.  My parents would go, sometimes bring back souvenirs, always brought back cases of rum from Puerto Rico, crafts from Haiti, etc.  They would get a married couple to stay at the house with us boys.  They would just be gone for about 48 hours.  We were always in good hands.
My youngest brother Duane, the one with Cerebral Palsy was always getting into some unbelievable situation or another.  When they were distributing Polio Vaccines at school, they brought out a tray of sugar cubes that had the Polio Vaccine squirted on top.  I liked it better this way, the year before they gave us shots, I hated that.  This year we were standing line to get our sugar cubes from the school nurse, Duane was at the head of the line.  I guess because of his disability.  Just before they started distributing the vaccines, the base artillery opened up for target practice, Boom! Boom! Boom! Kids being kids, we all ran to the window to see what we could see.  This went on for about 15 minutes.  After the shelling was over, we got back in line to get our medicine, only one problem.  During the artillery display Duane had ate every single one of those sugar cubes.  Two trays full. They took Duane to the Dispensary to pump out his stomach and the rest of us had to wait another month for another shipment of vaccines to come in.

We weren’t allowed to help Duane when he fell, which he did all the time.  Mom wanted him to be independent.  But, sometimes he used his disability to his advantage.  Any place that had a stairway was a playground for Duane.  If he saw a woman wearing a dress coming down the steps, he would fall or trip, just so he could pretend he was hurt but what he was really doing, was looking up her dress.

One day Duane called the base police and told them that Mom and Dad had gone to Jamaica on a junket and left him home alone, by himself. He told them that he hadn’t had anything to eat in a couple of days and could they please bring a couple slices of that pizza from the Galley that he had read about in the Gazette and hurry, because he was starving.

Mom had been in the backyard hanging up clothes on the clothesline.  There weren’t any clothes dryers on base back then.  When she came back into the house, there was Duane sitting at the table eating pizza with two Base Police, one on either side of him, babying him up.  One pouring him some soda and the other getting him another slice of pizza.  Duane could tote an ass whooping just as good as me and Gary, but he didn’t care, as long as he got some pizza.

While we were in Cuba, Duane received at least 6 operations on each leg and wore casts and braces for most of the 4 years we lived there.  When he felt like he deserved some attention, he got it.

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Once we finally got our bicycles we went everywhere, even the restricted areas were no one was allowed.  Kittery Beach was for Officer’s and their families.  Windmill Beach was for the enlisted personnel.  Every weekend the Base Police were called out to settle an armed disturbance, I remember seeing blood every where, guys crawling up the face of the cliff shooting at the Shore Patrol.

Our favorite beach was in a restricted area, surrounded by a minefield. It was up against the fence that separated the base from Communist Cuba.  Once in a while we would ride our bikes out there after we had swiped a pack of hotdogs from the fridge.  We would throw a piece of hotdog out in the sand, known as “no-man’s land”.  The stray dogs that would follow us out there would rush to eat it, we would mark their paw prints in the sand with sticks, so we would know where to step on the way back.

There we would find the best sea shells, swim naked and look for treasures washed in by the tides.  You never knew what Duane was gonna do and sometimes he would beat the dogs to the hotdog and eat it.  I would holler at him but he would say “I don’t care, I’m hungry”.  Occasionally a dog would step on a mine and then blood and guts went every where.  The explosion would garner unwanted attention and again we would suffer the same form of punishment.

One good thing did derive from our expeditions.  This was the time in history leading up to the Bay of Pigs.  Dad also worked for Naval Intelligence.  They needed a means of communication with the freedom fighters to coordinate their efforts with military personnel.  They started using the bodies from the dead dogs (what was left of them) like a Trojan Horse.  They would hide communiques inside the dead bodies and throw them over the fence, to be retrieved by the revolutionaries.
I got a silver dollar every week for my allowance.  It wasn’t given to me, I earned it.  Dad would send me out with different labor parties to make sure that I knew what “hands on” meant.

Sometimes I helped to unload mail bags at the Post Office and sort mail because I could read about as good as most of the sailors that worked for Dad.  Other times I would get sent out to help the Sea Bees build “Pill Boxes” that were scattered all over the base.  Sometimes I worked at the Galley, washing dishes.

The trash crew was a group of Filipinos that formed the major labor force on the base. Filipinos from the Philippines were granted US citizen ship for them and their families after a 6 year enlistment.  William Taft, then governor of the Philipines was assigned to replace Theodore Roosevelt as the governor of the Panama Canal.  Roosevelt had been appointed to be Secretary of the Navy.  Taft brought with him, to his new position, thousands of Filipino workers to help build the Panama Canal, these men formed “tongs” or gangs. (I think this was around 1911).

The thousands of workers were paid monthly in gold and silver coin.  The military adjutant overseeing the military aspects of the construction was Marine General Upshur. One month the payroll was robbed and for over 50 years no one had a clue as to who or what happened to the money.  One clue was the majority of the money was uncirculated 1901 Morgan Silver Dollars, encased in leather bags.

After the construction of the canal was completed, these men and their families, along with the construction equipment were scattered across the Caribbean to fill the needs of the many Naval Bases that were being constructed to protect the entrance of the Panama Canal in case of war.  The barges that were used in the Canal zone eventually ended up in Guantanamo and were used to build a protective reef at the end of Radio Point that led up to the docks.

When ships pulled in to port at the docks, my brothers and I were always anxious to greet them.  We would trade fresh mangoes and bananas for boxes of old comic books that sailors would take with them on a cruise to fight the boredom.  Sometimes these boxes contained Playboy and Penthouse magazines.  To us, these were like solid gold.  The Filipinos weren’t allowed to buy magazines with naked white women at the Navy Exchange and they were willing to pay more than the cover price for these old magazines.

Since we were out on the reefs almost every day we knew every nook and cranny.  The old barges had been sunken in place end to end, with slabs of concrete placed on top. Where the first barge had been placed, it blended in with the sandy beach landscape and had a large coconut tree leaning out over the top.  Gary climb to the top of this tree one day to get some overhanging fruit, his weight and the erosion of the beach sand from around the base caused the tree to lean over even more, exposing the roots and making a large opening that led to a small cave inside of the barge.

Inside the barge, it was dark and stinking, Whew, I can still smell it, it was that bad. Looking inside we found stacks of leather bags, stacked about 4 feet high.  When we tried to pick one up, it shredded scattering silver coins everywhere, all 1901 Morgan Silver Dollars.  We knew we had found pirate treasure, but didn’t want to tell anybody.  It was our secret.

Oh boy, more comic books, more shells for our rifles, more snicker bars and sodas.  Just more, more, more.  We use old palm fronds to cover the entrance, then went about our every day routines.  Hunting, fishing, riding our bikes and going to the pool at the Officer’s Club.

We were little gangsters. We figured every body was fair game.  We did deserve every ass whooping we ever got, and there were plenty.  Looking back we had the attitude that we wanted to live like “Pirates”, we weren’t afraid of being punished. Arrrrh!

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We were confident that we could live with the consequences once we got caught.  It never was a question of were we gonna get away with it ‘cause our Dad was in charge and we knew we could handle his “ass whoopins”.  The main reason we went to the pool besides the refreshing swim was to swipe money.  Duane was doing his thing at the stairs, standing guard while Gary and I would go through the lockers where everyone kept there clothes after they changed into their swimsuits.  We pilfered loose change, no not all of it. If there was $1.75 we would take 50 cents.  A couple of lockers and we would have enough for some fries and a couple of vanilla milkshakes at the concession stand.

A couple weeks after our discovery of the silver dollars we were at the pool doing our thing and we found a 1901 Morgan Silver dollar.  This was in the pants pocket of a young doctor that often swam in the lagoon near the reef.  Well, we put the dollar back and made a mental note to keep an eye out for the guy when we were near the reefs.  It wasn’t very long afterwards that the young doctor was found dead floating face down in the waters we swam in, nearly every single day.  We were stunned and scared shitless. We thought that the Filipinos were behind it because they were always watching us.

1901 Morgn Sivr Dollr.

It wasn’t too long after that, while sitting at the breakfast table, Dad saw me and Gary playing “football” with a silver dollar.  It was one from our “stash” a 1901.  I didn’t think he would notice one from another but he did.  He said, “Hey where did you get this? This is a 1901 Morgan Silver dollar”.  Then he told us and Mom about the rarity and the story about the unsolved robbery at the Panama Canal Zone fifty years before.  Uh oh, “Damn Naval Intelligence”, I thought.  Mom tried to take up for me, she told Dad that he was dreaming up shit, and that every week he gave us our allowance in silver dollars.

He chewed on it until Mom left the room and then he wanted to know the truth.  We spilled the beans, mainly I think because we were afraid the Filipinos were at fault for the young officer’s death and they were gonna get us next.  The amount of the money when it was loaded up and counted was staggering.  I don’t remember exactly how much now, but the money that was counted didn’t match up with the money turned in.  Dad was a straight arrow and when he found out about it, he skipped a couple rungs of the ladder in the chain of command and suffered the consequences.

His report to the way higher ups wasn’t received well.  He made a grave error, never skip the chain of command.  Even though he got a commendation letter from then President Kennedy for his handling of the dependent’s evacuation, his next duty station after we left Cuba was a Sub Tender out of Norfolk.  Not exactly a desired duty station for a young officer looking for promotion.  The good thing though, was we were able to skip the ass whooping this one time.

“NEGDEF” was held once a month, out came the fatigues and C-rations and K-rations getting every one prepared just in case Castro decided to invade.  “Water Condition Bravo.”  Do not wash your car, water your yard or waste any water.  Castro would cut off the water supply to the base every couple of months, like after President Kennedy sent him a thousand tractors as a good will gesture (you never hear about that). These were all lemons, Ford 8N rejects. Castro was so pissed he had them painted up like Easter eggs and lined the fence with them on permanent display.

The Navy brought in large ships to make desalinated water for the base drinking supply. That was terrible stuff. If you bathed in it, it was so thin it wouldn’t rinse the soap out of your hair.  We bathed in a rain barrel on the backside of the house.  Lights in the homes were to be cut off after 10 o’clock.  No movies, no traffic, stay indoors and the military would conduct training maneuvers across the base.

This was our cup of tea, so to speak.  We had paths laid out in the tree branches were we could come and go unseen.  We would pepper the MP’s with our little home made bombs when they drove by with their search lights mounted on the back of their jeeps.  There usually was an SP (Shore Patrol driver) and a MP (Military Police) riding shotgun, drove by and we hit them with a couple of our little pop bombs, they would shine the search light on the tree branches searching for insurgents.  It was us, they had to know, how could they not?

Duane dropped coconut bombs in the dumpster behind the BOQ, that was really good for an ass whooping.  We had our little forts all over the cliffs by the house.  We piled up real good throwing rocks, stored water in canteens and several boxes of C rations, just in case. We hid our bikes up in the tree branches just so they would be safe.

Dad could have let us know, but it was a secret.  I’m sure he shared it with Mom after we went to bed.  Dad might have been Naval Intelligence, but Mom was the brains of our outfit.  Dad drafted a letter informing the residents of the base of the Evacuation Plan, it was sent up the chain of command, all the way to COMNAVAIRLANT and after it was approved, the plan for evacuation went into effect. Each family was hand delivered the letter telling us to pack up, what to pack and when to be ready for pickup.


14542720_10202226459380517_390151060_n(4)Just like that.  One day we’re getting ready to fight and the next day us kids and other dependents were being shipped out.  Aw, we had just strung some barb wire, beneath the cliff beside of our house.  They did a great job without us but we had another adventure to look forward to.  The school buses arrived about 8 am, just like we were going to school but instead of going west to Victory Hill Elementary, they headed the east, the other way towards the docks where they kept the PBYs (Sea Planes).

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There was berthed the USS Upshur, a ship named after the Marine General that was in charge of the military interest during the construction of the Panama Canal, when the payroll was robbed.  This was too big of a coincidence for me.  I wondered about it for the whole 3 days we were aboard ship.  I kept wondering when the other shoe was gonna fall.  The Upshur had a big old gaping hole for a door way in the bow, for loading and unloading since it was a troop transport ship the bow had doors built into it, so it could be easily loaded from either side.

We stood in line as we boarded, getting our names checked off of the Master List.  Since I was 10 years old, I was sent to the stern in the ship’s company berthing area.  The bunks were stacked to the ceiling and they were about 16 inches above each other.  Mom, Gary and Duane were sent to a Stateroom located in the upper bow.  Each Stateroom had about 20 people in it.  They sat on the deck or were leaning against the bulkhead.  Cotton mattresses were rolled up during the day and spread out at night for sleeping arrangements.  This was our home for the next three days.

Our destination was unknown, military secret.  Loose lips sink ships.  We had life boat drills every morning, everyone one on topside was required to wear a life jacket.

Thinking that Mom had her hands full with Duane who had his legs in casts from a recent operation, I snuck up to her stateroom and commandeered Gary to go with me.  We were all over that ship.  The fact that our Dad was an Officer, didn’t cut any ice on board the USNS Upshur.  If we got caught pulling our shenanigans (and we did) we suffered the consequences.  We swabbed decks, helped peel potatoes, carried the Captain coffee, polished tarnished brass and even got to throw bags of waste products off of the fantail.

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The inside of our berthing space was like a giant boys club. Pillow fights, fist fights, gang fights we had them and the sailors seem to encourage us.  I had quite a bit of sea duty already from the many excursions that Dad sent me on that I was already familiar with what ever came next.

Gary and I knew semaphore, when we seen the American flag flying upside down, we knew there was something going on. On our leeward side were two Russian frigates following us about a 500 yards away.

Scary oh yeah, the Upsher was unarmed, a troop transport ship, carrying military dependents  The crew carried handguns to ward off boarders but there wasn’t much more armament than that.  Gary and I snuck into a lifeboat and had grabbed a couple of flare pistols but we only had two flares apiece, when Gary “accidentally” shot one towards the Russian ships that night, they were confiscated, taken away from us.

We would use our T shirts as “flags” and send rude messages to them.  We knew the ships weren’t up to any good and the dark forbidding clouds that followed us didn’t help.  I found a notebook full of paper on the third morning.  We were up on deck with the guys on my baseball team.  I got the idea to draw a cartoon of Kruschev bending over to kiss an American eagle on the ass, then made an airplane out if it and tossed it towards the Russians in an act of defiance.  The other guys on deck wanted to follow suit, I gave out notebook paper until it was gone.  Every one had their own idea on how to make the perfect airplane or make the most insulting cartoon we could imagine.  Before we tossed the planes overboard into the wind, we all stood in a line with our backs to the Russians and we gave them a “Full Moon Salute”.  We dropped our drawers and bent over, showing our ass. Then somebody hollered “Ready Two” and we stood up in unison, fastened our pants and then rushed to the hand rail to see who’s plane could make it the furthermost before it disappeared into the whitecaps.  One by one the planes were swallowed up by the waves.  When a sudden gust of wind would pick one of our planes up and give it new life, we would all give a cheer.  One plane made it almost within a hundred yards, a slight groan arose when it finally succumbed to the depths, but it was soon replaced by a cheer.

A solid white Coast Guard cutter appeared coming out of the fog behind us, forging it’s way in the four foot seas between us and our evil looking dark gray Russian escorts.  Who knows what was on their minds, we could only guess, but one thing we did know for sure, we were entering American waters and the Coast Guard had our backs.

CUTTER SHAMAL (FOR RELEASE)

The weather started getting colder and by the time we reached Newport News and disembarked in Norfolk, Va., it was downright chilly.  October 22nd when we left, 3 days later must have been around the 24th or 25th.  There was snow on the ground when I came down the gangway.  I was wearing deck pants, a V- neck half sleeve beachcomber shirt and a pair of rubber flip flops.  A photographer from AP took mine and my Mom’s picture and the next day it was plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the Unites States.  A lady from The American Red Cross greeted me at the bottom of the gangway.  She gave me a cup of hot chocolate and a red, second hand hoody sweatshirt.  I didn’t care, if it was second hand, it kept me warm.

The Navy Band played Stars and Stripes, it made me feel like we were heroes.  We had relatives there waiting on us, to greet us at the docks.  It truly was a great moment in American history.  I kept wondering about poor old Dad .  Did he remember where I kept the shells to the 30.06?  What about my dog Tippy?  Did anyone feed him?  My brothers and I had strung barb wire up and down the cliff behind the house and fastened beer cans with pebbles inside to make a noise, sort of like a burglar alarm.  I wondered did our design work?  Did the Cubans invade?  Did any one find our forts?

That stuff was a thousand miles away now.  We were on our way to Jacksonville, with my Aunt Alice.  We lived in Jax. for about 3 months until it was deemed safe enough for use to go back.  I was in the 5th grade at Arlington Elementary.  I was proud of who I was and my family and what we had been doing for the last 3 years.  I wanted to tell the world who I was and show off my skills, more importantly to brag on my Dad and the other men, husbands and fathers that stayed to fight if need be for our country and our rights.

Looking back now, I think my teacher at the time must have been a liberal because he didn’t want me to talk about it when my classmates expressed interest and in fact he punished me when I did.  I remember my cousin Cindy was in the class across the hall and she cried when she saw me getting licks through the window in the door.  I laughed because those three licks didn’t measure up to the lickings I was use to toting and after I laughed, I got three more.

Our return to Gitmo was kinda melodramatic. Not all of my friends returned.  Our house had been used as a military barracks because it had 4 bedrooms and three baths.  My dog Tippy acted strange almost like he didn’t remember us.  We went to Protestant Church on every other Sunday and to the Catholic Church in between.  I was told that Tippy attended service at the Catholic Church, almost like he was looking for us.  The Catholic Church always kept the doors opened and he would walk in and sit at the foot of our pew when they started playing church hymns on the organ.  Tippy used to follow the bus to school and sit under my desk during class.  The teacher gave up on trying to stop him.  It was too hot to shut the door and he didn’t cause any ruckus.  I think every boy should have a dog like that.

Mom told me years later that she didn’t worry about us boys so much as long as we had Tippy with us.  I know that the Filipinos hated him, he didn’t care much for them either. Several times a month we would wake up and Tippy would have all of the white uniforms that the Filipinos had washed and hung up on the line stacked up in a pile under my bedroom window.  Almost like he was ready for us to come out and play.  The last time I saw him, he was running down the gravel road as we were leaving to catch a plane, with a clothesline full of white uniforms in his mouth and strung out behind him, with two Filipinos chasing him with a machete.  You wanna know something, I kinda felt sorry for those guys.

Leeward Point

If you ever go out in a boat, in salt water, at night, maybe you should read this…………………………………..I’m pretty sure that everyone has heard of GTMO, or as civilians refer to it as Gitmo.  That’s a military acronym for the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  Not everyone has heard of Leeward Point.  Leeward Point is the name of the island about a quarter of a mile out in the Bay across from GTMO.  That’s where the Marine Corps base is located and the military prison now housing the terrorist.

The rocky bottom on the stretch of water in between is the best area you ever want to see, for Longustino.  Longustino are Caribbean lobsters without claws.  Their favorite place to hide from predators, is under rocks.  The locals call them “Longusta”.  The best way to catch them is at night from a boat, in shallow water, using a lantern and a gig.

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Between the Naval Base on the mainland and the Marine Corps Base the current can run pretty strong, depending on the tides.  The Navy ran a ferry service to the Island, 24/7.  At night the ferry used search lights, bells and whistles to warn boaters to stay out of the way.

One summer night my Dad had checked a 14 foot dinghy with a 25 horsepower motor, out of Special Services.  Dad wanted to take my little brother Gary and I out gigging for longusta.  Dad used a bent piece of re-bar that he placed in the bow of the boat, to hang a kerosene lantern. My brother and I would maintain a watch in the bow for likely places to turn over rocks in our search, with a potato rake.  Dad stayed in the stern until we got to a likely spot, then he would turn off the kicker and cast out the anchor.  We would turn over the rocks and gig as many of our fleeing prey as we could, then up anchor and drift a little ways, then cast out the anchor again.

The moon sunk behind a cloud for a few minutes and we started to hear what sounded like claps of thunder, all around the boat.  Mysterious large splashes of water would drench us, followed by more claps of thunder.

The moon slid back out from behind the clouds and we could see the cause of all the commotion.  We were in a sea of motion, but it wasn’t from the waves, it was from giant manta rays, 12 to 15 feet across, wider than our boat was long.  The humongous rays were performing a mating ritual by jumping out of the water, sailing through the air and slapping their powerful wings on the surface of the water to attract a mate.

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We were right smack dab in the middle of a large pod. Our boat had drifted out to deeper water.   The deafening noise and roiling water had distracted us for a minute or so that we lost our focus on what we were doing.  The anchor had gotten caught in a bunch of rocks and wouldn’t pull loose.  It was terrifying.  The giant mantas would come so close to the boat, that we were afraid of capsizing.  Too many to count, there were more than a dozen and maybe two dozen.  Dark as it was, who’s counting?

To make the situation even more dramatic we heard the horn from the ferry and the warning whistle, it seemed like it was right behind us. We had drifted right in the ferry’s path.  We were so close to the ferry that the search lights didn’t shine on us, but over our heads, illuminating the airborne Manta rays, our boat with the anchor rope stretched taunt and poor old Dad yanking on the pull rope, trying to start the kicker.

The ferry was right on top of us, the loud engines chasing the Manta Rays away and churning the water so bad that the lantern came off the hook and smashed when it fell on to the bow of the boat, starting a small fire that spread on top of the bilge water in the bottom of the boat.

With no time to spare, Dad dove out of the boat and followed the anchor rope down in the dark water and pulled it loose.  Just as he did, the splashing waves caused by the oncoming ferry pushed us to one side, out of harms way, and putting out the fire.  The ferry was still churning alongside of us, when Dad pulled himself back into the boat.  Fearful that we’d be sucked under as the ferry passed, Dad decided to give the motor one last try, he tugged the pull rope on the motor and it started first pull.  Oh what a welcome sound.  In a matter of seconds, we were speeding away, out of harms way and back on dry land.

Everything turned out for the best. We had a boat load of longustas and a story of a lifetime. I just wish that my Dad and my brother were still here to help me tell it.

Kilroy Was Here

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 litSunfishtle 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.Mike  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-Lkilry65 (1)antern.

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.