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Los Molinos man recalls time during missile crisis
It was Oct. 22, 1962, and 17-year-old Claude Crow was sitting in his high school class half-listening to his teacher when the announcement came across the intercom system.
"I remember it perfectly," said Crow, 67, sitting in his Los Molinos home. "The announcement said for everyone to go home immediately."
Home for Crow that day was Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the announcement came during the apex of the Cuban missile crisis.
In Crow's words, the crisis was "almost World War III, when President John F. Kennedy threatened to go to war if the Soviet Union didn't stop its plan to put nuclear missiles on Cuba."
Because of the extreme danger, all of the non-essential civilians on the Guantanamo Bay Military Base were evacuated, among them Crow, his mother, 9-year-old brother and 11-year-old sister. His father, Verdgil Crow, a civil engineer for the military in charge of public works, was one of six civilians who voluntarily remained at the base.
"I remember being bussed from the high school to home and walking in the door to the sight of my mom standing there with a single suitcase in her hand," Crow said. "That was all we were allowed to take with us, a single suitcase. I asked my mom, 'What's going on?' and she told me we were being evacuated. We got right back on the bus and were taken to the ship. Laundry was left hanging on the line, dirty dishes in the sink and pets left behind."
When he left for school that morning, there was hardly a vehicle on the roads. On the bus to the docks, Crow said the roads were crowded with military vehicles as if a war had already started.
That was 50 years ago, but the memories remain tangible for Crow.
"I'm hoping to find someone else in this area who may have been there and experienced some of the things I experienced in Cuba. I've lost touch with most of my old classmates and many of them have passed away," Crow said.
Arriving in the US
Crow and his family joined 2,200 other civilians boarding the USS Upshur that day. The ship took four days to travel to Norfolk, Va., where they disembarked with nary a thing in hand.
"When we left Cuba, there were 2,200 civilians on board. When we arrived at Norfolk, there were 2,203 because three babies were born en route," Crow laughed. "I received a letter of gratitude and appreciation from the commanding officer of the ship commending me for my volunteering and helping on the ship."
During the trip from the Caribbean to US soil, Crow remembers the Upshur was escorted by Coast Guard cutters, anti-submarine planes and Naval destroyers due to the tense political standoff between the two super-power nations.
The Crow family soon left Norfolk and spent three months in Ogden, Utah, at the home of Crow's older sister.
The crisis escalates
After the evacuees left, the military action continued with Kennedy refusing to back down, Crow said.
"It was down to the last three minutes before Khrushchev pulled back and ended the crisis," Crow recalls.
The 13-day political and military standoff ended when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the US promising not to invade Cuba and Kennedy secretly agreeing to remove US missiles from Turkey.
"What most people don't know is that the US had already planned to remove the missiles from Turkey anyway," Crow said.
Return to Cuba
When they arrived home, he remembers everything being just as it was when they left, even down to laundry still being on the clothes line.
Crow's recollections of life in Cuba are all good.
"The military did everything it could to accommodate our needs and make things as normal as possible for the civilians, even if our milk and bread were shipped over frozen and we didn't have many of the things common on the mainland," he said.
Life did include a teen club, movie theater, tennis and bowling, a "hamburger joint," and rental boats.
"You can't believe how clear the water is there. It is crystal clear and I did a lot of diving. My first job after high school graduation was working at the base's desalination conversion electrical power plant," Crow said.
When his family first arrived in Cuba in 1957 they could come and go off the base as they chose.
"The Cuban people were very friendly, and I really liked the island because it has the four climates of a rain forest, desert, mountains and valley," Crow recalls.
He remembers the base being closed in 1959 when Fidel Castro took the country from Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
"We were absolutely not allowed off base after that, but things were still good growing up there," Crow said. "One benefit was in high school there were twice as many girls as there were boys in my class. Made it really easy to get a date for the prom."
Crow hasn't been back to the island since he left there in 1968 when his father was transferred to Edwards Air Fore Base.
Today, Crow lives in Los Molinos with his wife, Sandy, in the home where they raised their three sons, Jerry, Jeff and Sam.
"I hope someone who was in Cuba during that time or has been there anytime since will give me a call," Crow said.