Crisis In Cuba

By Col Allen R. Millett, USMCR - Originally Published November 1987

In 1962 1stLt Allan R. Millett was S-1 adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 8th Mannes, part of Ground Forces, NS, Guantanamo Bay. What follows are extracts from the journal kept in the S-1 section, primarily by Lt Millett, throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis:

During the summer of 1962, for reasons that still remain partially obscure, Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev ordered a dramatic change in the size and type of assistance to Cuba and moved toward a confrontation with the United States. Russia had already transferred significant quantities of military equipment to the Cuban armed forces of 75,000 regulars and 100,000 militia but had accompanied this aid with only about 500 advisers. After July 1962, however, Khrushchev sent almost 20,000 Soviet troops (including four armored battle groups) to Cuba along with some 40 intermediate-range ballistic missiles and 40 medium bombers, all nuclear-capable. This attempt at a shift in the strategic balance, which then heavily favored the United States, posed a serious threat to the cohesion of the NATO alliance, American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, and the authority of the Kennedy administration. In addition, the Cuban missiles and bombers posed a threat to America's southern cities. When aerial reconnaissance over Cuba verified agent reports in early October, Kennedy decided he could not accept Khrushchev's coup de main and publicly ordered the Russians to remove their nuclear forces from Cuban soil or risk war.

Alerted only 48 hours before Kennedy delivered his ultimatum to Khrushchev, the American armed forces went quickly to a war footing with an efficiency unseen since World War II. To secure the naval base at Guantanamo Bay menaced by both ground assault and rocket attack, the Corps deployed two reinforced battalions by air from the United States and another from the Caribbean amphibious ready force; as Ground Forces Guantanamo Bay swelled to more than 5,000 men, air units deployed to Key West and Puerto Rico. Allied with Navy carrier task forces, nearly 400 Marine aircraft prepared to throw an aerial umbrella over Guantanamo Bay and fly cover for any amphibious operation against Cuba. Among the 400,000 American troops prepared to invade the island if war came, II MEF provided its own full available strength and assumed control of the 5th MEB, a 10,000-man task force provided by the California-based IMEF. As the Kennedy Administration hammered out a policy of quarantine and controlled escalation, the Corps in 8 days assembled over 40,000 troops for the joint task force encircling Cuba. Had the JCS invaded the island, II MEF would have led the way across well-defended beaches.

-From Allan R. Millett's Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps.

It was Saturday, 20 October 1962 and someone had pushed the button.
At Camp Lejeune, the battalion's alert company moved out.

"A Drill," said the boys in the head.

And on a weekend, " muttered the brown-baggers as they drove to the base.

"§#*?!"said the adjutant, for he was a short-timer.

"Who knows, "said the commanding officer (CO).

It was Saturday, 20 October 1962, and there were Russian missiles in Cuba.

21 October 1962:

(1300): Company B emplaned CHPT for GTMO . . .

(1730): Company A emplaned CHPT

(1830): Company C emplaned CHPT

(1930): Company D emplaned CHPT

(2200): H&S Company (-) emplaned CHPT.

22 October 1962: Battalion arrived in echelon at NAS, GTMO. Outfitted for further operations with body armor, ammo, rations. Companies went into defensive positions at Leeward Point, except Company B, which has taken up position on the Windward Side . . . .
Civilians being evacuated via ship, plane . . . CO reported to Gen Collins (Commanding General (CG), Ground Forces) for duty . . . mission is defense of airfield until relieved. Morale of troops outstanding.

(0730-1200): Battalion dispersed in Leeward Point area. Working parties unlouded incoming planes . . . . Awaiting word for transport to mainside via ferry.

(1200-1500): Movement of battalion by LCU, ferry, whaleboat . . . . Three men from Company A felled by heat exhaustion, evacuated to dispensary. Extensive naval preparation in harbor-destroyers in firing positions, transports unloading.

(1500-1800): General preparation-more ammo issued, supplies stored. Battalion is reserve with blocking positions assigned. Heavy air activity-patroling fence line.

(1800): President Kennedy's speech-blockade of Cuba, joint OAS [Organization of American States] action, Russian pullout of offensive missiles.

(2000): Most of battalion sacked out No activity except working parties unloading more ammo, rations.

23 October 1962: Reassigned nine ex-confinees back to companies. Logistical buildup continues. Castro spoke via radio for 1 ½ hours after some 36 hours delay. Castro made reply-usual propaganda. Notable omissions-no mention of Russian help or move to break blockade on offensive weapons. Broadcast monitored by Sgt Lopez, journeyman interpreter.

24 October 1962: Word on mail-no censorship has yet been announced . . . . Company A fed hot chow, showered. Other companies working on positions . . . . Msg released to CG 2d MarDiv requesting pay records.

(1730): Intelligence briefing-no sign of buildup; some jamming of radio transmissions; militia callups not too successful in Guantanamo City . . . . 50 percent showed; maps being procured.

CO voiced plan to wangle section of MLR [main line of resistance].

(2000): Contact made with line-crossers, but they were not held. FAC team reported "disturbance" in its area. Opinion-sentry met two foreign nationals, sent them to MCB camp for food and shelter.

25 October 1962: SECNAV 39 extended all enlistments and obligated service for Reserves . . . . World situation-no forcing of naval blockade yet. Parties at Summit, UN [United Nations] in offing. U.S. position remains unchanged.

26 October 1963: Companies moving into new positions .... Sea detail arrived via USS Montrait (APA 213) with vehicles, supplies, comm gear, and field mess equipment.

While the Cuban Crisis was far from over for the Marines on America's most vulnerable leasehold, the building of fortifications, tours for visitors, chow-runs, reports, and the first mail call (28 Oct) gave the situation a "business-as-usual" tone. At least during the daylight hours.

28 October 1962:

(2100): Report of infiltrators in Company B's position. No capture or identification made.

29 October 1962:

(2000-2400): Line-crossers moderately active in Companies A and D areas. Three sightings, no capture. Unknown parties have tapped mortars' wire comm, thrown rocks at unsuspecting Marines. Two possibilities-line-crossers are Castro militia or advisors practicing harassing tactics or counterrevolutionaries who desire an "incident" to kickoff a U.S. invasion of Cuba.

30 October 1962:

(1000): First report from Company B area that rifle shots are being exchanged along the outposts on the fence line. Incident-Corporal in Company D shot a pig wandering around minefield on orders of the S-4. Bn XO obtained authority from Base PMO to kill the pig....Mild panic resulted, but no exchange of fire with Cubans occurred

(1230-1330): CO's conference... CO announced various policies-(1) Lights on vehicles on while traveling on MSR [main supply route], off on side roads. (2) Stressed safe driving. (3) Staff cooperation and coordination. (4) Proper dress. (5) Need for rotation program for line units.

(1400-1600): CO, S-2 met with company commanders to map strategy for "Rabbit Hunt" to halt nocturnal harassment... nickname of "Rabbit"-"Ruben the Cuban."

31 October 1962:

(0500): The rains came.

(1900-2400): Rain curtailed Rabbit Hunt. Msg-U Thant mission to Havana deemed questionable success. Fidel adamant on noninspection.

1 November 1962: Meeting of ISOs [information service officers] with base information officer .... Gist of briefing-VERBOTEN topics for incoming reporters-"Rabbit Hunts," harassment, unit strengths and names. Provide info on move, mission. Be honest, don't try and hide obvious, such as positions, equipment. If in doubt as to classification, say "can't answer" or "don't know." Be polite and helpful.

3 November 1962: Put word out on "volunteers" for Protestant Choir-two per company.

6 November 1962:

(0335): Unidentified man challenged by "Sneezy" Roadblock near CP. Subject appeared to sentry to be a man dressed in civilian clothes and armed with a rifle. Sentry believed man on the verge of firing weapon and shot once with .45. Pursuit unsuccessful.

(1100): On word of CG to CO to S-3A, helicopters (4) carried 20 men of Company A to North Fence to investigate "a jeep that went through the fence." Turned out to be a truck from Marine Barracks that turned over near fence. Troops returned. Performance of chopper pilots less than fantastic-light loads (5 men) for HUS.

(1115): CO of MCB-7 visited CP to go over plans for construction of fortification on the MLR.

(2300): Report of capture of Ruben! Caught by Yankee Outpost. Upon in- vestigation, however, culprit turned out to be a very drunk PFC from Company B who was struggling to return, against orders, to the company lines. He had been on R&R.

Even a cold war, slightly heated up, has its casualties. Fatigue, tension, carelessness-all are as deadly as enemy bullets. In the first week of the Cuban Crisis, a MATS transport carrying mortar and artillery ammunition plowed into the earth short of the Leeward Point runway. Seven died in the sooty explosion. A few days later a Marine working party tripped an antitank mine. Four men lost a total of five legs. Now it was the Battalions's turn.

7 November 1962:

(2335): Accidental shooting in the CP area-PFC Snyder, sent by Duty NCO to investigate telephone silence at Outpost Sneezy, became alarmed by two "bodies" lying near or on the road. "Bodies" failed to answer several challenge inquiries. Upon sudden movement, Snyder fired 8 rounds from M-14, hitting PFC Howard once in foot and PFC Thomas four times-foot, leg, buttocks, and arm. Howard and Thomas evacuated to U.S. Naval Hospital GTMO after emergency treatment.

Note for marksmanship instructors-Snyder fired from approximately 15 yards, from the hip and in complete darkness. All the hits were ricochets.

8 November 1962:

(0700): Called officer of the day at U.S. Naval Hospital on Howard and Thomas. Howard had shrapnel removed from foot-condition excellent. Thomas worked on until 0430. Broken femur, shrapnel in foot and buttocks, flesh wound in arm-condition good.

(0915): Word from Furnace 3. Green Side Out!!

9 November 1962: New men arrived GTMO courtesy DOD. Toured fenceline and northeast gate.

10 November 1962:

(0600): As the Battalion awakens, the morning was sent with happy cries of "Happy Birthday, Marine Corps," followed by satanic laughs. Corps' 187th B-date.

(0900): Strength report:

(1600-1630): CO visited Companies B and D for Marine Corps Birthday meal; messages read to troops . . . . Birthday formation at CP . . . . Birthday formation at Rear Echelon.

(1800-2100): Jim Lucas of the Scripps-Howard chain visited Company B. Briefed by Capt Colassard, then went on a short recon patrol to fenceline with LCpl Golden, PFC Charnisky. Two fence guards reported harassment by Cubans, male and female, and Lucas interviewd them. Toured fenceline by jeep.

13 November 1962: Message-CMC arriving at GTMO late this p.m. Will be in area tomorrow.

(1830): Company C reported convoy of tanks moving in their area. Tanks are USMC M-48s, M-103s under command of Capt Irwin Rommel. No previous liaison on move.

14 November 1962:

(0830-1030): General Shoup and MajGen Chapman toured companies on the MLR. Visits shortened by time schedule.

17 November 1962:

(0245): Company A reported activity along fenceline, including possible line-crosser.

(0315): Company A reported green flare fired by Cubans.

18 November 1962: CP officers (Rein) beat CP troopers (Rein) 9-6 in hard-fought softball game. Rumor has it that ammo being unloaded from vessels will turn out present tenants of Bunker 94 . . . someone found out we were both comfortable and organized, the unpardonable sin. Nosey newsmen still prowling the area looking for hidden secrets with no success.

20 November 1962: S-4 and CO tried to ascertain whose brilliant idea it was to carve ammo slots along magazine road. Dozers knocked out all wire communications and tore up the helicopter landing zone.

(1800): President's news conference-blockade lifted.

As the days dwindled down to the end of November, the telltale signs of a standdown spread. ALMAR 27 canceled extensions, released Reserves. Officers moved in BOQs. An epidemic of organized athletics broke out and the company commanders worried about unrealistic training schedules. Everyone worried about when they were going home. Paperwork increased. On 30 November, the battalion moved to cover the zone of a departing organization.

The major crisis of the first week of December was the distribution of tickets for the Perry Como show and the rumor mongers spoke of Caribbean liberty.

There could be only one answer to these problems-the "flap" was over and, this year at least, the battalion would indeed be home by Christmas.

6 December 1962:

(2000): Battalion CO held conference with staff and company commanders. Announced that 1/8 would be airlifted to Cherry Point by 12 December. Company A (Rein) will remain at Leeward Point until on or about 7 January.