Life can be unforgivingly ironic and cruelPosted: March 28, 2023 Filed under: Childhood, Friends and Family, History, loss, Posts & Bases, Pride, The Host Nation Leave a comment
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.
ALWAYS THANKFULPosted: January 24, 2022 Filed under: Appreciation, Childhood, Friends and Family, History, Identity, Pride, Values Leave a comment
I was born the son of a US Army soldier on a US Army post, in a US Army hospital, and lived on various US Army posts in the US and in Germany during my Dad’s 22 year US Army career…I attended nine different schools in my first twelve years of schooling, starting in Germany and ending in Tennessee…I saw things and visited places that most civilian kids only dream about…I grew up with and lived among people of all races, colors and creeds, and experienced cultures other than just American culture, broadening my view of the world…I sat in school classrooms beside children of all colors and religions, black, yellow, brown and white, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu or agnostic, without racism or religious intolerance rearing their ugly heads, ever…and I learned to get along with others, to be adaptable, to be flexible and to fit in wherever we happened to live…being born and raised a US Army Brat truly prepared me for life in so many ways, for which I am eternally thankful…after all these years I still consider myself a Brat, and if I had the the chance to go back and live life over, I wouldn’t change a thing…growing up a US Army Brat truly enriched my life in so many ways…fellow Brats, I think we all have a common story…we all were given a precious gift when we were born to US military parents…be always thankful…🙂
WHAT MILITARY TV OR MOVIE CHARACTER REMINDS YOU OF YOUR FATHER OR MOTHER?Posted: March 19, 2021 Filed under: Appreciation, Childhood, Friends and Family, Identity, loss, Pride, Sacrifice, Uncategorized, Veterans | Tags: Military Dads 2 Comments
The question was asked by someone earlier on the page about what TV show or movie do you think portrays brat life well? Most people answered “none”, and I understand that. I haven’t seen any that strike me as being realistic and representative of my experience, but if you were to ask me what TV show or movie portrays my father in a way that is familiar, I would have to say the movie “A Soldier Story” made in 1984 starring Harold E. Rollins Jr.
The main character is an African-American JAG Captain named Davenport. The story takes place during World War II when Davenport is sent to a backwoods Louisiana Army post to investigate the murder of a Black senior NCO in an all-Black Chemical Corps unit. Not withstanding the fact that my father was a Chemical Corps officer, and that Rollins looks a lot like him, the movie is well made and the story is compelling. It has an all-star cast of Black actors that includes Adolf Cesar and Denzel Washington in one of his first roles.
Notably, my father joined the Army after integration, but he was still a rare commodity as a Black officer in the late 1950s. Throughout my life, there were never more than a handful of Black senior officers wherever we were stationed [if any], so my father understood that he carried the burden of being the representative of the entire Black “race” on his shoulders no matter what he did, and he made sure that we his kids understood how our behavior would be judged by those same standards. He would often say to me when I did something wrong outside of our quarters, you can’t do that because you are my son and you represent me!
In the movie, Captain Davenport is a sophisticated, tough-as-nails, straight shooter with an impeccable sense of style and the self-assurance of a man who is keenly aware of his place in the world. Rollins’ character is so much like my father you would think the producers based Captain Davenport on him. Davenport’s mannerisms and the way he carries himself are mirror images of the amazing man I grew up with.
When the movie came out in 1984 [four years after my father retired] I got to watch it with him, and after it ended, I turned to him and said, now I understand why you are the man you are. He smiled and said, that Captain Davenport was really something else wasn’t he. My father was a man of few words, but those few were his stamp of approval for what he had just seen, and more importantly lived through during his 23 years in the Army.
My father is gone now and I’ve watched the movie at least half a dozen times since he passed away and each time I see it I get choked up, but no doubt in a good way.