The original history of Guantanamo Bay was compiled and written by Rear Admiral M. E. Murphy, Commander Naval Base from 1950 to 1952. It was published in 1953 and since that time copies have become non-existent. The writings of Rear Admiral Murphy have been left intact inasmuch as research in updating this history revealed no significant changes.
The period 1953 to 1964 can be classified as an extreme opposite to the previous 10 or 20 years. A relative calm prevailed at Guantanamo Bay from 1953 to 1958 with only limited activity recorded. There continued to be emphasis on training of the ships under the Atlantic Fleet as well as general improvement of roads, additional recreational facilities and family quarters and the expansion of activities supporting the fleet during training exercises.
Guantanamo Bay's calmness was shattered with the events that took place in the Sierra Maestra Mountains approximately 40 miles to the west of the Naval Base as a small group of revolutionaries started their trek to Havana. The small band of rebel fighters that inspired the Cuban people to overthrow the Cuban government then in power, was headed by Fidel Castro. They ultimately took power in Cuba in January 1959 with the complete support of the people of Cuba and the majority of nations in the world.
The first portion of this period of the Guantanamo Bay history deals with the Naval Base in general. It documents events which came to the attention of the entire world, such as the October 1962 missile crisis. Additional historical information from the different commands at Guantanamo Bay is included separately. Information may occasionally be duplicated, but only when it is essential to the history of a particular command.
NAVAL BASE GENERAL INFORMATION
A bit of the battleship Maine found a resting place at Guantanamo Bay in November 1952, when the local American Legion Post received a bronze memorial tablet cast from metal recovered from the Maine. The tablet, which now hangs in the foyer of the Administration Building, is one of 894 made available by the Secretary of the Navy to patriotic groups and to relatives of personnel who were on board the ship.
Although little attention was focused on the defensive posture of the Naval Base in 1953, nevertheless the Naval Emergency Ground Defense Force (NEGDEF) was established on a basewide scale at that time. Training exercises were held periodically for efficiency and to augment newly arrived personnel into the defensive organization. An Instructors' School was started at the Marine Barracks on July 9, 1956, in connection with this force. To test the readiness of NEGDEF, simulated disasters (a mock hurricane and a bogus atomic attack) struck the base June 26, 1954, climaxing a three-day drill. These drills were of particular importance in establishing procedure for mass evacuation in case of disaster. As conditions in Cuba grew more critical and with the overthrow of the government by the rebel forces, more emphasis was placed on the Emergency Ground Defense Force. Although not connected with NEGDEF, an Internal Security Unit was added to the Base Police in August 1954 to help protect government property.
The Golden Anniversary of the Naval Base was celebrated December 10, 1953, commemorating the signing of the agreement in which Cuba leased to the United States over 45 square miles of land to be used as a coaling station and Naval station. High-ranking military officers and civilians were present for the anniversary observance. Admiral Robert B. Carney, Chief of Naval Operations; LTGEN H. L. McBride, Commander, Caribbean Command; Rear Admiral Austin K. Doyle, Commandant, TENTH Naval District; the Honorable Arthur Gardner, American Ambassador to Cuba and many other dignitaries accepted invitations to participate in the celebration.
As in any other community, Guantanamo Bay citizens experienced a "missing boy" scare on April 11, 1954. After being missing for 16 hours Peter Minard, age 9, and Jeff Henson, age 7, were found asleep at the Naval Station corral by one of the attendants making his morning rounds. The two boys had been sleeping in comparative safety while the Base Police, the Harbor Police, volunteers in private automobiles and search parties scoured the base from the Northeast Gate to Phillips Park.
The search was one of the largest and most extensive of its kind ever made on the base. Two blimps, two helicopters and two planes covered the entire Naval Base in the all-out search for the "missing boys".
Guantanamo Bay a Haven
Guantanamo Bay has long been noted as a "haven". In the history written by Rear Admiral Murphy accounts are given that pirates used the bay area as a haven from hurricanes and other elements lurking on the high seas, mainly other pirates. In modern days the area actually remains a haven for stricken vessels in the Caribbean area.
It was on June 14, 1954 that a well-kept sailing sloop flying Honolulu colors slid into Guantanamo Bay amd approached Wharf Bravo. These unexpected visitors were the Kennises who were making their way from Maine to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands when, just south of Inaga Island, the Zephyr sprung a bad leak.
Recreational Clubs and Civic Organizations
A need for a recreational area for personnel residing in the Bay Hill area (just north of the shopping area) was of prime importance and the "Barrel Club" officially opened on September 10, 1954.
Numerous civic organizations have been active here but a search of their origin has been fruitless except for those listed in the early history of the Naval Base. However, the Navy Wives' Club, which organized a chapter in August 1954 and the forerunner of the present Naval Base Civic Council, the Villamar-Bargo Association, were among the early groups formed. The Red Cross opened its field office here on February 1, 1955.
During the ensuing years as many as 40 civic organizations came into being. As more housing units were being constructed and additional families arrived greater attention was given to functions such as the Boy and Girl Scouts.
A new note of progress in friendly relations between the United States and Cuba was sounded with the signing of a bi-lateral agreement by officials of both countries in Havana on January 10, 1956. The agreement provided for the supply of naval units of both countries, and covered financial transactions, supply and services to vessels. As a result, advanced payment from either government was not required for supplies such as fuel, provisions and spare parts.
Rear Admiral W. G. Cooper, Base Commander and Arthur Gardner, U. S. Ambassador to Cuba, signed for the United States. Rear Admiral J. R. Calderon, Commander-in-Chief of the Cuban Navy and Dr. Gonzalo Guell, Sub-Secretary of State, signed for Cuba.
To further the relationship of the two countries six officers from the Naval Base, headed by Rear Admiral W. G. Cooper, flew to Antilla, Cuba, on September 9, 1956, to witness the inauguration of the Naval activity of the Marine de Guerra. General Fulgencia Batista saldivar, President of the Republic of Cuba, dedicated the new activity. A year later, Rear Admiral R. B. Ellis, Commander Naval Base, along with other high-ranking Naval officers assisted in the dedication of the new Caimanera Naval Post in Caimanera, Cuba.
Hurricanes Hazel, Janet, Ella
In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel slammed through the Caribbean. The Base Commander, Rear Admiral E. B. Taylor, was in charge of the relief operation, and with the American Red Cross provided the initial assistance to the island of Haiti. The USS SAIPAN, operating in the Guantanamo Bay area was provisioned to capacity and sent to the island on a mission of mercy. Hazel passed the base about 50 miles to the east and did very little damage except to excessive rain and winds. Again in September 1955 the Naval Base figured in another hurricane as Janet ravaged the countries of Yacatan and British Honduras. Relief operations were carried out from this area.
Another "lady" left her mark in the Caribbean in September 1958. Her name was Ella and before she left the southeastern coast of Cuba she had dumped over a foot of rain on the surrounding terrain. The rain during this hurricane was considered by the old-timers as the worst to hit Guantanamo Bay in modern times.
New Developments in Cuba
World attention has never focused more keenly on the U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay than in the late 1950s. With the overthrow of the Cuban Government by Fidel Castro in 1959 a chain of events began taking place in Cuba which directly affected the base.
On June 27, 1958, 29 Sailors and Marines returning from liberty inside Cuba were kidnapped by Cuban rebel forces headed by Raul Castro, brother of Fidel and de-tained in the hills as hostages. Through diplomatic efforts they were finally released on July 18, 1958 suffering no apparent injuries but were happy about their return to the base.
United States and Cuban rela-tions began to decline about July 19, 1959, when Fidel Castro openly declared himself in favor of the Marxist line, and began mass jail-ing and executions of the Cuban people. Cuban territory had been declared off limits to U. S. servicemen and civilians on 1 January 1959.
With this action more emphasis was placed on security aspects of the fenceline. Marine security per-sonnel increased their guard posts and refined security measures were enforced.
Base-wide Naval Emergency Ground Defensive Exercises (NEGDEF) continued to be con-ducted. This involves training Sail-ors to man field stations should the need arise to supplement the Marine security forces. NEGDEF (later re-named DEFEX) contin-ues today, training Sailors and Marines stationed here how to defend this property until re-enforcements arrive.
Diplomatic Relations Broken
President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the following statement when the formal break of U.S.--Cuban relations took effect on January 4, 1961:
"The termination of our diplo-matic and consular relations with Cuba has no effect on the status of our Naval Station at Guantan-amo. The treaty rights under which we maintain the Naval Sta-tion may not be abrogated without the consent of the United States."
With this action the Naval Base took on an entirely new concept of security. The Cuban government placed young inexperienced militia-men along the fenceline to act as guards. They were poorly clothed, ill-equipped and inexperienced. It was a common occurrence for these milita guards to converse with U. S. Marines and accept cigarettes through the fence.
During the Bay of Pigs Invasion on April 17, 1961 the Naval Base took precautionary, security measures. There was no unusual activity as a result of the action several hundred miles Northwest of Guantanamo Bay. However, there were many rumors of evacuation of de-pendents and concern about the Cuban Government shutting off the water supply from the Yateras River, neither of which occurred.
Unrest prevailed inside Cuba and countless numbers of Cubans sought refuge on the base. To re-pel those who desired to flee Com-munism in Cuba, Fidel Castro had milita-men plant 8 miles of cactus along the Northeastern section of the fenceline during the fall of 1961. Thus the name "Cactus Curtain" became symbolic of other , curtains" of Communist-domi-nated countries.
Harassments to Cuban Workers
Prior to the decline in U.S.--Cuban relations vehicles were permitted to enter and depart the Naval Base. In mid-1958 when the Cuban territory was declared off limits, the flow of traffic was stopped and Cuban workers com-ing into the base were required to walk through the gate checkpoint. Public Works Center busses were pressed into service almost over-night to carry the tremendous vol-ume of Cuban workers to and from the gate.
The Northeast Gate took on a different look as the Cuban Gov-ernment decided to build a bank in November 1960. The purpose being to exchange U.S. dollars into pesos as base workers en-tered Cuban territory. Although the building was intended as a bank, it never proved its worthi-ness and shortly became a guard-house for the Cuban milita-men and later the regular Army forces of Cuba.
From the closing of the gates to vehicular traffic until September 1962, Cubans leaving the Naval Base after work were searched within a few yards of the Ameri-can Marine guard post. Female employees were occasionally given a thorough search by milita-women in an anteroom adjacent to the Cuban guardhouse.
During strict searching periods, workers who were "smuggling" band aids, aspirin, etc., for their families, would drop these precious items on the American side of the courtyard between the two guard posts. Searching of the workers by Cuban guards was conducted in full view of the U. S. Marines and visiting dignitaries and news-men who would photograph the action. To eliminate this, the Cuban Government constructed a chute-type fence from the guard building to a series of barracks--type buildings about 1,000 yards to the rear. On the first day the "cattle chute" was in operation hundreds of Cuban workers walked slowly through the new enclosure as the Brahma cattle roaming freely about the area watched as humans were being sent through the "cattle chute".
In September 1962, the Government of Cuba stopped the small ferry boats from bringing passen-gers from Caimanera and Boque-ron to the Main Gate at pier Bravo. These workers then had to get transportation around the upper Guantanamo Bay area for entry through the Northeast Gate only, another of many attempts to harass those who had been faithful to the U. S. Navy in reporting to work each day. Those in Cuba who accepted the new form of Government called these workers "GUSANOS"� meaning WORMS. Throughout the continuing conflict between the two countries, Cuban workers remained completely loyal to the U. S. Navy and U.S. Government. Many had worked on the base for 20 or 30 years as had their fathers before them. Conditions within Cuba itself had deteriorated to the point that employment on the Naval Base was highly regarded by the Cuban population. Hiring of new personnel ceased shortly after the off-limits restriction was placed in effect. The Cuban Government al-lowed those already employed to continue to work, but no new Cubans could seek employment.
Go to Chapter Nineteen