Fifty years ago this month, secret aerial photos showed the Soviet Union was building nuclear missile installations in Cuba, within easy striking distance of most of North and South America. President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of the island to halt further deliveries. For 13 days, the world waited and hoped for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, but feared it was the beginning of nuclear war. Kennedy spoke to the nation about the crisis on Oct. 22.
In the end, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the Cuban missiles, and the United States promised not to invade Cuba. In a separate deal that remained secret for decades, the United States also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey.
Here, Robert Pryor, originally from Nitro, now of St. Albans, remembers being a young Marine stationed at Guantanamo Bay at the time.CHARLESTON , W.Va. -- It was our battalion's turn to rotate to the Caribbean to relieve the battalion that was there. At Guantanamo Bay, Echo Company was to go ashore on the windward (airstrip) side to serve as a Marine Security Guard Unit. We were assigned barracks and our gear was taken to the barracks.
After a small briefing from our company commander, we set out to make our bunks and more or less settled in for what we thought was going to be a brief stay. We had a small utility room inside our squad bay in which we kept our haversacks, which contained two concussion hand grenades and one smoke grenade. These were hung on a clothesline and were secured by a clothespin. The plan was that if ever the siren sounded, we were to file by the small utility room and receive one haversack and then proceed to the trucks outside to go to the trench lines. Each platoon was to have a day of guard duty, a day of stand-by (in which you could leave the area but must sign out), and a day of liberty, when we could partake of things on the island, such as fishing.
One day when my platoon was on guard duty, I had been assigned to Post 6, the last post from Main Side. It was several miles to Post 6. Another Marine and I were in our Fire Tower, which had the old WE8 Field Crank Phone and one set of ship's binoculars. I heard what I thought was an engine running. I asked my fellow Marine if he could hear the engine. He heard it, too. We both looked back toward Post 5 several miles away. Not seeing any dust or a jeep on the road, I immediately looked through the binoculars into Cuban territory. I saw a tank that had just backed into a ravine. The turret was turned directly at our position. My fellow Marine confirmed my sighting. I cranked on the phone to get in touch with the guard shack. I told them what we witnessed. A few moments later the company first sergeant got on the telephone and asked, "Pryor, what do you have out there?" I again told the story about the engine running and seeing the tank. He told me to hang up and he would call me back shortly.
When the phone rang again, I answered "PFC Pryor, Post 6." The company first sergeant told me that we would synchronize our watches. At a certain time I was to leave the tower and pull the pin on my smoke grenade. I did so.
Several minutes passed and the telephone rang again. There had been an airplane fly over to take pictures. Several minutes passed and the telephone rang again. We were told that they would be sending a jeep to pick us up. Several minutes later, we saw a small jeep coming after us. On its way, the jeep suddenly stopped and after a few minutes it turned around and headed back. I called again to find out what happened. My company first sergeant said he would investigate when the jeep returned.
He called back and said Cuban soldiers had cut the pontoon bridge, and it drifted to the far side of us. We could not see this from our tower. We were told to bring the telephone and the binoculars and walk toward the Gitmo River. We headed out and when we reached the river, we observed 12 or more Cuban soldiers standing next to the fence. This put the two forces approximately 15 feet from each other with only a 12-foot fence separating us.