Gitmo Sixteen

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

The Evacuation

Charley Sixteen

The Evacaution 

Dad could have let us know about the evacuation, but it was a military 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. 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.

The original is now in the Library of Congress.

Just like that. One day we’re getting ready to fight and the next day us kids, civilians and other dependents were being told to ship out. No preparation, just leave. Aw, we had just strung some barb wire beneath the cliff beside of our house. The base personnel did a great job without us, we didn’t have much time to worry about it, we now 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. Instead, they headed east, the other way towards the docks where they kept the PBYs (Sea Planes). 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 next three days we were aboard ship. I kept wondering when the other shoe was gonna fall.

Uniquely the USNS Upshur had a big old gaping hole for a door way in the bow to make it easier for loading and unloading. Since it was a troop transport ship the bow doors were built into it to make it easily loaded from either side.We stood in line for hours as we boarded, getting our names checked off of the Master List.

I was 10 years old I was sent to the stern in the ship’s company berthing area with the rest of the boys. Below decks the bunks were stacked to the ceiling. They were about 16 inches apart, one above the 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 and leaned against the bulkhead. Yes, they were packed like sardines. 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.

At the time, our destination was unknown. It was a military secret. Loose lips sink ships. At first the ship’s heading was east towards Puerto Rico before eventually sailing north. We had life boat drills every morning, everyone one on topside was required to wear a life jacket.

I knew that Mom had her hands full with Duane who had his legs in casts from a recent operation. I was able to sneak up to her stateroom and commandeer Gary to go with me. We were all over that ship. The fact that our Dad was an Officer back in Gitmo didn’t cut any ice on board the Upshur. If we got caught pulling our shenanigans (and we did) we suffered the consequences. We swabbed decks, helped peel potatoes, carried the Captain’s coffee and polished tarnished brass. We even got to throw bags of garbage off of the fantail. I can’t tell you how much fun that was.

The inside of our berthing space was like a giant boys club. Pillow fights, fist fights, gang fights we had them. 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 whatever rough housing came next.

Gary and I were well aware of semaphore. When we came up on deck we saw the American flag flying upside down; we recognized this as a distress symbol. There was something going on. Casting our eyes on the horizon there on our leeward side were two Russian frigates following us about a 500 yards away.

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

During daylight hours we used our T shirts as “flags” and send rude messages to them. We knew the ships weren’t up to any good. The dark forbidding clouds and cold winds that followed us didn’t help our attitudes. I found a notebook full of paper on the third morning. We were up on deck after lifeboat drills with the other guys on my baseball team. I got the idea to draw a cartoon of Kruschev bending over to kiss an American eagle on the butt. I 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, one of the older boys hollered out, “Attention! About Face.” We all stood in a line with our backs to the Russians. On command “Salute,” we dropped our drawers bending over to show our bare bottoms. Then on command, “Ready Two,” we stood up in unison. We 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 feet. 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. One thing we knew for sure, we were entering American waters, the US Coast Guard had our backs.As we traveled north the weather started getting colder. By the time we reached Newport News and disembarked in Norfolk, Va. it was downright chilly.

It was October 22nd when we left, 3 days later must have been around the 25th or 26th. 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 Mom’s picture and the next day it was plastered on the front page of every major newspaper across 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 hoodie sweatshirt. I didn’t care, if it was second hand or not, it kept me warm.

Walking in the snow wearing flip flops took some getting use to.

The Navy Band played Stars and Stripes. The crowd it made us feel like we were heroes. We all had relatives 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 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 Jacksonville for about 3 months until it was deemed safe enough for use to go back. I was placed in the 5th grade at Arlington Elementary. I was proud of 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.

Adapting to the real world was strange. It didn’t fit. No, It wasn’t quite like I remembered. We didn’t live on Radio Point anymore.

Looking back now, I think my school teacher at the time must have been a socialist. He didn’t want me to talk about my experiences when my classmates expressed interest. In fact he punished me when I did. He must have thought that I was getting too much attention. I remember my cousin Cindy was in the same class. Cindy cried when she saw me getting licks. I laughed because those three licks didn’t measure up to the lickings I was use to toting. After I laughed, I got three more.

After a three month hiatus our return to Gitmo was melodramatic. No brass band. Not all of my friends returned. In our absence 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. Under normal conditions, we went to the Protestant Church on every other Sunday and to the Catholic Church in between. I was told that Tippy was seen attending 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. Proud of himself, he would sit on a pile of white uniforms and wag his tail. It was 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. He was dragging a clothesline full of white uniforms in his mouth strung out behind him. There were two Filipinos chasing him with a machete. You wanna know something, I kinda felt sorry for those guys.

58? Did I say 58? Yes, it’s been 58 years since these events transpired. Mom passed away in 1971. Dad followed in 1996. Not before he bought or built 4 mobile home parks, a motel and a truck stop in civilian life. I think the skills he learned in Gitmo served him well.

My brothers, oh I miss them so much. My partners in crime. They both passed on much too early. I can’t help but think they are out there on that reef back at Radio Point waiting on me to join them.Not that I am in any hurry, I can’t go until I get the chance to tell our story. I’d better hurry though, I feel the tide is about to turn.

Anchors aweigh! Charlie Foxtrot over and out.

Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2022 mike frailey. All rights reserved.

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