Life can be unforgivingly ironic and cruel

This is a photo of my dad, Gordon Ward, in 1957 at our home in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Naval Base. With him are two Cuban boys, Raul and Luis age 12 (a year older than I at that time.) 

My dad had been stationed as a US Marine there in GTMO in 1941, right after Parris Island and before WWII, for 2 years before being sent to fight in the Pacific (see my sister’s biography titled “Uncommon Survivor” for his history.) After being severely wounded on Iwo Jima on the first day of that ferocious battle, the woman he had met in Cuba 3 years earlier left the island, traveled to his hospital in New York and married him. Six years later he got a job as a civilian on that base influenced by my by-then mother’s parents who still lived in Cuba in the nearby town of Guantanamo (20 miles from the Naval base.) 

Gordon (dad) was an adventurer and after a few years of skin diving and spear fishing took up flying, buying his own airplanes and flying them out of the Guantanamo airport all around the island (he was not allowed to keep the planes on the base.) In that capacity, he began to do charity work, taking a base doctor with him to remote areas and providing some basic medical care for the most needy. On a related trip he learned about Luis and Raul, who were in an orphanage and in very serious need of dental work.

So, in 1957 as the Castro Revolution was in heavy activity he had the two boys come to stay in our house on the base. I met them but left for the Summer to go to my grandparents’ house in New York, so I did not get to know them beyond meeting. So for two weeks he had their teeth repaired on base (I believe, though it’s also possible he took them outside the base.) He provided humanitarian aid to them, as was the case. 

The Castro Revolution escalated and 18 months after this photo, a new government took over the island. The Castros eventually revealed themselves to be traitors to their promises, brutal to their opposition. Dad lost touch with Raul and Luis and we left Cuba that year near mid-1959.

Several years later dad attended a conference in San Francisco and encountered a Cuban he had known, who had also known Raul and Luis. So dad asked him about their welfare. With great sadness, the man told dad that the Castros had had the boys executed as spies, having learned that they had spent time on the base.

Life can be unforgivingly ironic and cruel.

What is unrecognized by most people is how much money GTMO contributed to Cuba until 1959. I have many articles (from the base paper) that showed charity drives, donations, etc. by base personnel to Oriente Province (the most eastern and poorest part of Cuba that surrounded the land portion of the base.) In addition, the sailors and others would take mini trips and spend much money around there, millions of dollars! On the salacious side, there were 3,000 prostitutes in the closest village to the base, Caimanera, were the men from the base and fleet (very few women on base, after all, beyond the dependent school girls and wives of accompanied men.) That town was basically leveled later by Castro and mine fields placed at the fence line.

Frederick  Ward

Summer Reads from the Museum’s Press

Fort Bragg, 1957

–Mike Leary

Flashback. Fort Bragg, 1957, I’m 13. I’d been on my bike going back home with a friend and came to the railroad track. Before I could hop off, my front tire hit a rock which flipped me over and my head hit the rail, busting my forehead bloody. My friend walked me up to the housing area where the woman happened to be a nurse and took me to Womack hospital where they stitched me up with 5 stitches. 

A week later I was to get them out and got into an argument with my mother who wouldn’t drive me. It was blowing up a North Carolina storm with sheets of lightning and I had to peddle about 3 miles to the hospital. I got there waited a bit and they took me back where I laid on a gurney. The doctor had got two of them out, when there was a lot of commotion going on. A nurse came in and took him to another room.

I waited at least 15 minutes before she came back in and asked me to go back out to the waiting room. It was now full of soldiers. They had made a jump just before the bad weather and were on the drop zone when the storm started. They’ed been hit by lightning. One guy was helping others when he went into spasms and collapsed in the waiting room. It was pouring down rain now and I called my mom. She came and got me and put my bike in the trunk. My dad took out the rest of the stitches.