Guantánamo Bay Cemetery Offers a View of the Base’s History

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – At first glance, this grave behind the locked gates of a remote US naval base looks like a miniature version of Arlington National Cemetery. But these marble headstones tell a completely different story.

Haitian refugee babies and American sailors rest here. Likewise, Greek and Norwegian merchant yachtsmen, Royal Navy and Brazilian Navy sailors who died of disease a century ago, and Cuban day laborers who invested heavily in the United States after the 1959 revolution.

Most of the 330 people buried in this cemetery have a similar relationship. You never find your way home.

The Cusco Well Cemetery is named after the battlefield where US Marines once occupied the coveted water source during the Spanish-American War. It is officially only held on Memorial Day at this base of 6,000 inhabitants, a tradition that began in 1988.

But last Saturday morning, the sailors unlocked the gates and allowed a group of volunteers to walk the winding path through bushes with cacti and ammunition depots. Yes. They began to clean the neatly lined white marble headstones, giving them a rare look inside.

Several American soldiers are buried here. The oldest is Kumajima Kamota, a sailor who died in the wreck of the warship USS Indianapolis while sailing in Guantanamo Bay. According to his naval records, he was born in Nagasaki, Japan, on July 4, 1873, enlisted in New York at the age of 25, and was on the ship in February 1902 when he worked as a cook at a station. He died while preparing food for an officer.

He was buried at the base three times to cover the days before the Navy sent home corrupt soldiers. He left an old Spanish cemetery near the landing site that is now a windmill, and his body was later moved to a point in the bay called Trokey North. Cuscowell later became his final resting place in the 1940s integration effort that removed the bodies of nearly everyone buried in the 45 square mile bottom.

Six Brazilian sailors on the battleship Sao Paulo who died of the flu in the early 1920s are also buried here, including a Vincent so the stone won’t record anything. He was beside Florence Bridge, who died in 1918 at the age of three, and Gertrude Myers Russell, a private base employee, who died in 1922 at the age of 29.

The roughly 20 graves represent the immigration crisis of the mid-1990s, when American ships prevented tens of thousands of Haitians and Cubans from arriving in the United States and evacuated them here to overcrowded tents. .. James Germain’s inscription reads “Refugee from Haiti” and he is six years old. The “unknown Cuban refugee” died on January 27, 1994, two other Haitians on July 4 of the same year.

Since 2002 there are only traces of the war prison where the base was found. This is a wire mesh system with the inscription “Tomb of Islam”, which was laid by an army imam at the beginning of the containment mission.

However, no prisoners of war against terrorism are buried here. US forces have returned the bodies of nine men, three Afghans, three Saudis and three Yemenis who died in custody.

The graves from the most recent detentions belong to Cubans who immigrated to the base in the 1960s. For the most part, day laborers who voted for the Americans in the early days of Fidel Castro’s uptight revolution or sought refuge from harassment to continue working at the grassroots.

In the years following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, relations soured to such an extent that the base commander gave longtime workers the opportunity to sleep in barracks-style homes to escape the humiliation of daily commutes. .. There are rumors that the others will be able to return home in about half a year.

For a man like Harry Sharpe, it is a lifetime.

He began traveling as a day labourer, pushing carts for 12 cents an hour in 1953, and ten years later began building shelters on the base. Another family went to the United States, but Sharp chose to stay until political change occurred in his native Cuba, either by leaving Castro or lifting the US embargo.

He died a week before Castro on November 17, 2016 and only slept under a tombstone that read “Cuban Exile”.