Gitmo Thirteen

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

The kind of things the military brats can get into on base, in a foreign country.




Charlie Fifteen


Kilroy Was Here


The Naval Base in GTMO was three miles wide and ten miles long. We spent four years there. My brothers and I were always looking for something to do. The paths we took to get there seemed to lead us into trouble, in one form or another.


There were four outdoor movie lyceums spread across the base. The movies were the central location for socializing. My brothers and I really enjoyed a newsreel one night where the lead character was a fictitious guy named Kilroy. During WWII he was a famous character for drawing his cartoon everywhere and signing it, “Kilroy was here.” Soon, everyone took up the cause. Kilroys 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 scribbled on something. “Kilroy was here,” was posted on every open surface in our community. Like on the rear of a dirty bus. “Kilroy was here.” It appeared so much that it wasn’t funny to anyone but us. If I took the last Popsicle, I would leave a note in the freezer, “Kilroy was here.” My brother Gary took a dump in the bathroom and left it unflushed. He took a bar of soap and left a message on the mirror in the bathroom, “Kilroy was here.” This got such a negative reaction from Mom that she told Dad that he had to put a stop to it.


Navy tradition has it that anyone in command is called “Captain.” I overheard the enlisted men that worked for my Dad say, “Aye, Aye Captain.” I thought he was a Lieutenant but I then again maybe he got promoted or something. After one particularly terrible report card period I got the idea to sign my Dad’s name on the back of the card, to signify the fact that my parents had seen it. I signed it, “Captain J.R. Frailey.” My teacher was well aware of military protocol. She knew that my Dad hadn’t been promoted 2 or 3 pay grades overnight.


Big stink when my parents found out. Yeah, I got in trouble again. Big surprise, huh? I was put on class restriction and wasn’t allowed to go out and play like everyone else during recess. The teacher made me stay in the classroom while everyone else was having fun. I took advantage of the opportunity and wrote, “Kilroy was here” on the inside cover of everyone’s Social Studies book. When my parents found out they were steaming. The books were government property.


I had already toted a couple of recent “ass whoopin’s,” probably child abuse by today's standards. 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. Wanting to avoid another beating, I jumped at the chance. Soon 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 neat. I mean, we didn’t have TV on base to watch cartoons to keep us occupied. With the Cub Scouts, among other things, I learned to sail a boat. We could just go to Special Services and check one out. I was taught how to tie plenty of cool knots that came in handy when sailing. Bowline, half hitch, square knots. Mom got mad because I had tied all the cords to the window blinds into a sheep shank.


With a little help from a few sailors as our squad leaders, we learned to make lean-tos for emergency shelter, the proper way to build a campfire, comb the jungle for good places to camp, build hammocks out of palm fronds and the best way to open, eat and drink coconuts. Just all around general good stuff for a boy back in the early 60’s.


I would share the things I learned how to do with my younger brothers, Gary and Duane. During nice weather, we could check out a sailboat on our own to enjoy a day’s worth of sailing in the Bay. Our designated area was supposed to be, according to Mom, off the end of our peninsula, Radio Point. Some days, if we could catch a good offshore breeze, we would scoot that little Sunfish across the bay looking for small uninhabited islets as a spot for us to get out and explore. We searched for game tracks and bird’s nests. We looked for anything interesting that the tide might have washed up. We waded through the debris on the beach looking for useful items. On one excursion we found a case of red spray paint washed up on the beach. We stored it for future use.


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. Foot races, bicycle races, ball games, etc. 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 either end of the block would align themselves with one side or the other. We were very competitive. The games involving throwing rocks were usually won by us.


My Dad served 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 on his sleeve. He also wore 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 flashlight, 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 loaded Colt .45 automatic on his hip. Dad looked like a real life Steve McQueen. 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, done 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. He told me to 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 Shore Patrol (SP) driver or Base Police (BP), sometimes both. It depended on what ships were in port. The jeep didn’t have a top. Dad rode shotgun, I stood between his legs holding on to the top of the windshield.


The back of the jeep had a spotlight in the rear and a machine gun mount on the hood. 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 best 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. Weapons were commonplace. Most of the wounds were superficial. I think I saw more damage done from being hit with chunks of flying coral than actual bullet wounds. It was a macho thing, single guys get drunk during hot weather. A real powder keg. When these times would happen Dad would send me back to the jeep to get his flashlight. He would give me the, “Stay there until I send for you,” command.


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 anymore. I was just dressed and ready to go. I always bugged Dad about, “When were we gonna put the machine gun in the mount,” (Like they did during NEGDEF exercises) 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 watched the Sea Bees in a launch going from island to island until they found the one they wanted. It had a water access by an inlet on the leeward side. The jungle thickly surrounded it. The gnarly mangrove roots crowded the beach. 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 sailboat. We weren't sure who exactly, but someone had installed a fence with a gate to block the water access through to the inlet. A black and red sign read, “Peligro” in Spanish and “Danger, Do Not Enter” in English. Hey, that wasn’t there before. How cool was that? I can tell you now, there was no way we were gonna keep out. The tide was low so after we raised the keel and took the mast down, we scooted under the gate. 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, was this really happening to us? This newly found treasure trove became our secret fortress. The metal hut was filled to the brim with supplies, canned goods, C-Rats, tents, sleeping bags, hammocks, nylon rope, rope ladders, cargo nets and all types of survival gear. 


We decided not to tell Larry and Lon. Their dad was in charge of Operations and was friends with our dad. His office was on the other side of the plexi-glass from Dad’s. We didn’t want them telling on us. Just chalk one up for the Blue Angels.


One night when Dad had 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 “Guerillas.” They had been trained by the Navy in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, for amphibious landings. They were known as Brigade 2506. There were others being trained in Panama and Guatemala. Under Dad’s supervision they loaded up into a “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 to offload. Under the cover of darkness, they were to be provided with arms, ammunition and provisions to bolster their upcoming mission.


On 17 April, 1961 these combatants were members of the Democratic Revolutionary Front that landed at Playa Giron known then as, “Operation Zapata." Now known as the Bay of Pigs, a failed attack launched by the CIA to remove Castro from power. 


It was a dark night, I can’t say how many men were in the group, but there were plenty. Riding low in the water, the landing craft was crowded to the gills. I rode up in the conning tower with the coxswain, observing while he was looking at a chart. He used a flashlight with a red beam trying to find his bearings with a compass. 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 from Dad to turn on the spotlight. That was my job. 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 large sign that read, “Peligro, Danger, Keep Out.” Someone had taken a can of red spray paint and wrote, “Kilroy was here,” big as life. Some of the men started making the sign of the cross on their chest, while others started cursing in Spanish. Yeah, I had been around enough sailors that I knew cursing when I heard it no matter what language it was in. I think they considered it a bad omen. The gates were unlocked; we landed at the dock. I pretended to be busy tying off the craft, while everyone disembarked.


I stayed on the boat to operate the spotlight like I was told. Someone told me to shine the light on the concrete bunker. A big ole smiley face greeted us with the message, “Kilroy was here,” in red letters, painted across the door. 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 concrete 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 searchlight on the door of 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 to me like a Jack- O-Lantern, smiling at an inside joke.


Across the front of the door, in big letters were the words, “Kilroy was here,” applied with red spray paint.


I knew Dad was mad. 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. He kept on like he didn’t have a clue. When they opened the doors, they could see everything had been ransacked. Cardboard boxes of C-Rats had been opened and looted. Hammocks were stretched across the room. Some were tied with beautiful round turn with a double half hitch knots. The Kilroy logo was painted across everything. Ponchos were scattered everywhere, sleeping bags and pre-packed 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 sure was glad too. I just figured that he didn’t want to holler at me in front of the driver. I knew I was gonna catch it when we got home. When we entered the house, Dad took off his cap with the OD insignia on it and set it down, brim up. 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 sprayed painted graffiti in red paint all over everything.”


I never told him any different.

Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2021 mike frailey. All rights reserved.

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