Gitmo Fifteen

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

Pirates of the Caribbean, my brothers and I find treasure

Charley Sixteen

Silver Dollars


Once we finally got our bicycles we went everywhere. We were especially fond of the restricted areas where no one was allowed. Kittery Beach was for Officers 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 everywhere, guys crawling up the face of the cliff shooting at the Shore Patrol. Our favorite beach was unnamed. It layed in a restricted area, surrounded by a minefield.

Between Kittery Beach and Communist Cuba, it ran alongside the fence. Once in a while we would ride our bikes out there after we had swiped a pack of hotdogs from Mom’s fridge. I would throw a piece of hotdog out in the sand known as “no-man’s land.” Somehow Fidel Castro flooded the base with hundreds of wild dogs. These stray dogs would follow us out to the beach. They would rush to eat the hot dogs as we tossed them out. We would mark their paw prints in the sand with palm fronds so we would know where to step on the way back.Our private beach, 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 though. Sometimes he would beat the dogs to the hotdog, brush the sand off 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 everywhere. The explosion would garner unwanted attention and again we would suffer the same form of punishment as usual.

One good thing did derive from our expeditions. This was the time in history leading up to Operation Zapata, aka 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. Afraid that the homing pigeons had be compromised, 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 received 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. The labor crews were a group of Filipinos that did most of the menial work on the base. Filipinos from the Philippines were granted US citizenship for them and their families after a 6 year enlistment. William Taft, then governor of the Philippines 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 coins. The military adjutant overseeing the military aspects of the construction was Marine General Upshur. One month the payroll was robbed. For over 50 years no one had any idea as to who stole or what happened to the money. One clue was the majority of the money was uncirculated 1901 Morgan Silver Dollars. When last seen, they were encased in leather bags.

After the construction of the canal was completed these men and their families, along with the construction equipment were dispersed 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. Some of 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.

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 initially placed it blended in with the sandy beach landscape. It had a large coconut tree leaning out over the top. Gary climbed to the top of this tree one day to get at 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 3 feet high. When we tried to pick one up it shredded scattering silver coins everywhere, all 1901 Morgan Silver Dollars. We thought we had found pirate treasure. We didn’t want to tell anybody. This 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 everyday routines. We didn’t want to attract attention to our discovery.

We just went on hunting, fishing, riding our bikes and going to the pool at the Officer’s Club.  We were little gangsters. We considered everybody as fair game. We weren’t malicious, it was just the way we were brought up. If our Dad was a Mustanger(LDO), so were we. We were thrust into the role of being officer’s children after we were brought up to be blackshoes.

Yes, we did deserve every form of punishment we ever got, and there were plenty. Looking back we had the attitude that we wanted to live like we were pirates. No, we weren’t afraid of being punished. Arrrrh!  We were confident that we could live with the consequences once we got caught. It never was a question of if we were going to get away with it ‘cause our Dad was in charge. We knew we could handle his “ass whoopins.” Not always so easy maybe, but once they were over, well, they were over.

The main reason we went to the pool at the Officers’ Club besides the refreshing swim was to swipe money. We were always looking for another score. That’s just what we did. Duane would do his thing at the foot of the stairs. If someone came up, he would fall over making lots of noises, pretending to need help. He’d stand guard while Gary and I would go through the lockers where everyone kept their street clothes after they changed into their swimsuits. We pilfered loose change. No, not all of it. For example, 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. There were oak leaves on this guy's collar. We deduced that these were the pants pocket of a young doctor that often swam in the lagoon near the reef. Where it came from, we didn’t know but we put the dollar back. I 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 that we swam in nearly every single day, off of Radio Point. We were told that he drowned. We were shocked with disbelief and scared beyond belief. I thought it was possible that the Filipinos were behind it because they were always watching us. They lived near us. They were never far from where we were.

It wasn’t too long after that while sitting at the breakfast table Dad saw Gary and I playing “football” with a silver dollar. It was one from our stash, a 1901. At the time we didn’t know about any robbery. I don’t know how Dad noticed one from another to me they all look alike, but he did. He said, “Hey where did you get this? This is a 1901 Morgan Silver dollar.”

Then he told Mom and us 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 us, she told Dad that he was dreaming up shit, 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. After hearing the story, maybe it was their money. Maybe 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. Later we heard that the money that was originally 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 to report it. Later, he 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 striving for promotion. The good thing though, we were able to skip the ass whooping this one time.

Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2023 mike frailey. All rights reserved.

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mike frailey

When I move my story from Google Docs to Booksie, it jumbles up the outline on it's own. I don't know how to straighten it out. I tried to fix it with an edit but it goes right back to it's original form once I repost it.

Fri, April 16th, 2021 11:22am

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