INCIDENTS DURING WATER PLANT CONSTRUCTION
Throughout the 1964 water crisis and construction of the water plant several events occurred along the fenceline.
For months previous, Cuban guards had harassed Marine sentries by rock-throwing tactics and obscene gestures. The harassment became more frequent after the water pipe was cut, in an apparent attempt to provoke U. S. sentries into creating an unfavorable incident. However, the U. S. Marines never retaliated and continued their vigilance in a military manner reporting to their superiors when such incidents took place along the 17-mile fenceline.
In the spring of 1964, the Cuban Government formally complained to the United States that the U.S. Marines had destroyed the property around the Cuban guardhouse at the Northeast Gate. They accused the Marines of using abusive language and actions which degraded their guards, and that the Marines had taken down the Cuban flag, threw it on the ground and used provocative action against the guards on Cuban territory.
Photography Plays Vital Role
These accusations, of course, were false. A team of Navy photographers attached to the Atlantic Fleet Mobile Photograph Group, Gitmo Detachment and Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay were stationed on the hill overlooking the area to photograph any and all movement at the Northeast Gate. This move was very effective and guards in the area were extremely careful of their actions. In an effort to reduce the value of the motion picture cameras, the Cuban guards installed a number of large spotlights which were aimed toward the cameras, making photography practically impossible. In July 1964, Rear Admiral Bulkeley ordered the Mobile Construction Battalion to construct a 30-foot circular slab of concrete on the hillside with the Marine Corps emblem painted on it. Soon after the paint work was accomplished on the Marine emblem, the bright spotlights from the Cuban side of the gate area were turned off.
The Northeast Gate was by no means the only trouble spot along the perimeter as rock throwing continued at various posts with the Marines taking abuse from such tactics of harassment. To curb this action the Marine guard posts were moved back from the fenceline. However, Cuban guards used slingshots to stone the Marines on guard duty. Cut-off roads were constructed to avoid any close contact with the Cuban guards who would come along the fence at night and stone the vehicles on patrol. The pull back proved more of a harassment to the Cuban guards because they were unable to effectively stone the "Yankee".
In mid-July 1964, just preceding the 26th of July Cuban celebration, the Cuban government again accused the U.S. Marines. This time it was the "killing" of one of their guards. Their accusation indicated that a Marine sentry fired six shots and critically wounded the Cuban guard twice. Investigation of the circumstances disclosed that the U.S. Marine sentry was fired upon initially by the Cuban guards and that the Marine in attempting to protect a fellow sentry fired ONE shot well over the heads of the Cuban guards about 250 yards away. Further, the Marine sentry said that immediately after the shooting an ambulance was on the scene as well as a Cuban photographer and several other guards. The location of the alleged shooting was in such a remote area along the fenceline that it would have taken 45 minutes for an ambulance to travel to the area. Yet, it was there within a few minutes after the alleged shooting, evidence that it was a well-planned demonstration.
Cubans Move Back
Within a few days after the alleged shooting incident, Fidel Castro announced that his troops were moving back from the fenceline so that his guards would not be killed by the U.S. Marines. In the early part of August 1964, some 20 pieces of Cuban earthmoving equipment commenced clearing an area about 200 yards deep. Along with clearing the trees, cactus and underbrush, a new type of pillbox was constructed with escape trenches having concrete sides and top. A zig-zag barbed wire fence was constructed about 100 yards from the fence. Its purpose was not known although it was considered a means to deter those desiring to escape from Cuba to the Naval Base. A few stouthearted Cubans continued to make their way to the Naval Base for exile. Some were fortunate; others were caught by their own guards.
One of the most interesting stories of Cubans escaping Communist Cuba was the case of three young Cuban boys about 16 years of age. To escape from the perils of Communism they swam across the upper portion of Guantanamo Bay late one evening. Unfortunately, two of the boys never made the Marine guardpost called the water gate. The lone survivor was taken from the water by the Marines and turned over to the base authorities. He remained on the base and attended the base school, graduated in 1964 and was given a scholarship from the Guantanamo Bay Scholarship Fund. This youthful Cuban entered the U.S. under sponsorship of a naval officer and attended college in the Chicago area.
The Northeast Gate, where once the Cuban employees checked in and were searched, was abandoned in mid-August 1964 as the Cuban guards hauled down their flag and moved back about 300 yards. Several pillboxes were constructed in the area and the surrounding landscape cleared of all trees and brush. This was in sharp contrast to how the area was maintained just a few months earlier when an air of secrecy was maintained around the buildings in the background.
Other events at Guantanamo Bay in 1964 included opening of the first banking facilities in the history of the base. The bank, operated by the First National City Bank of New York, was formally opened on September 21, 1964 as Miss Sally Bonnell, age 14, cut the ribbon and made the first deposit in the amount of $20.00. She is the daughter of Captain and Mrs. G. C. Bonnell. The Captain was Commanding Officer, Naval Supply Depot, who personally spearheaded successful efforts to establish the bank.
Prior to this time only limited banking services were performed by the Disbursing Office of the Naval Supply Depot and the Navy and Marine Corps Exchanges with money order purchases and check cashing.
Through the combined efforts of Navy personnel attached to the Public Works Center, the Mobile Construction Battalion deployed here and the Cuban residents, Cuban barracks on the base were being remodeled for more comfortable living conditions. The influx of hundreds of Jamaicans required additional living space. The Elementary School (Victory Hill School) was converted into barracks for the Jamaican workers. As the phase-out of dependents slowly progressed and more employees arrived from Jamaica, additional housing was required. Kittery Beach enlisted housing units were made available to Jamaican workers. Additional barracks space for military personnel was created by assigning military (officer and enlisted) to private quarters vacated by families.
One of the most tragic occurrences in modern times at the Naval Base was the death of five sailors from the USS BOXER on May 2, 1964, in a mine field.
It was never established how the five entered the mine field. They apparently became disoriented while walking back to their ship from a beach outing in the early evening and being unfamiliar with the restricted areas of the base wandered into the mine field.
Marine sentries near the area of the mine field heard the explosion and cries from the men. Then another explosion was heard shortly thereafter apparently killing all men instantly as the sentries warning calls brought no response. A helicopter with searchlights was dispatched to the area immediately after the reported explosion. The bodies were recovered Sunday morning May 3, 1964 after a team of Marine demolition experts, working eight hours, cleared a path through the mine field to the area of the explosion.
To establish significant landmarks of historical value at Guantanamo Bay, several monuments were erected. One was erected atop John Paul Jones Hill in May 1964 and another at the location overlooking the newly constructed water conversion plant at Fisherman's Point in September 1964. Fisherman's Point and John Paul Jones Hill are mentioned several times in the writings of Rear Admiral Murphy's history on Guantanamo Bay.
Fisherman's Point has special historical interest as it is the location where Christopher Columbus landed in 1494. The U. S. Marines landed here during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The area harbored the only business area in the early 1900's.
An official announcement was made by the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve 1964. The message read: "Effective immediately United States military and civilian personnel ordered for duty to the Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba may be accompanied by their dependents."
The no-dependents policy had been in effect since February 1964 after the Cuban Government shut off the fresh water source to the Naval Base. The decision to bring dependents back to Guantanamo Bay was a welcome message and a wonderful Christmas present for those desiring to have their families join them.
With the opening of the last unit of the water plant the Naval Base has sufficient water for additional personnel including the dependents. Watering of lawns and shrubbery, along with the washing of vehicles, was authorized during the Christmas holiday.
Go to Chapter Twenty-three