GOING TO AMERICA
It was a hot Sunday afternoon in 1969. The USS Boxer (LPH-4) was on a westerly track toward Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and was enjoying holiday routine aboard ship. Many Sailors and Marines were lounging topside on the flight deck soaking up rays of sunshine while others were in the catwalks, spud-locker and bow watching flying fish and the waves, wakes and floating debris. Suddenly, someone spotted something different in the water. Several people caught sight of the object, barely visible, floating ahead in the path of the ship. The approaching object aroused natural speculation about what it might be. As it came closer, figures became discernable and the sailors began shouting to three children clinging to an inner tube. The inner tube with children bouncing in the bow waves, passed only feet away from the port side of the ship.
The Boxer made a sharp left turn and came abreast of the inner tube and a boat was lowered to effect a rescue. The children resisted rescue attempts, fearing that the ship was Castro's ship and they would be tortured. They finally accepted a rod extended by a crewman. A 13 year old girl and two boys, ages 11 and 9 were brought aboard and rushed to sick bay. They were treated by the ship's doctors and questioned by a Spanish-speaking interpreter who happened to be the ship's dentist.
Through a curtain of hysterics, the children managed to tell the story of their traumatic yet miraculous odyssey. The girl though obviously terrified and weak from her ordeal was the most coherent. She related how they started out with their father, mother, sister and three other men in a small boat attempting to escape from Communist Cuba. After several days, the boat had taken on much water and was on the verge of sinking. The group decided they would take turns being towed on a string of inner tubes that had been brought along as life rafts. They took turns riding on the inner tubes, leaving only two or three in the boat at any time.
Cuban patrol boats appeared and the three men panicked. They took over the boat, threw the remaining members of the family overboard and sped away. After floating in the shark infested waters of the Caribbean for an undetermined amount of time, their father lost consciousness and drowned. When their sister lost her grip and went under, their mother swam off in a vain attempt to rescue her. Neither returned to the three survivors.
Doctors estimated from the children's physical condition that they had been on the inner-tube for two days. When they were brought aboard, they were weak from malnutrition and complained that they had drank sea water the day before and had been violently ill.
When Uss Boxer anchored at Guantanamo Bay, the children were rushed to the base hospital. After several days of convalescence they were given a new wardrobe, watches and a plane ride to Miami where they were adopted by relatives.
USS Boxer personnel, wishing to make the fresh start in the United States as happy as possible, established a $1,800 trust fund for the three children.
All of us in cyberspace would like to learn more about those adventurous three miracles who became American Citizens 39 years ago. This story was found in a December 1969 US Navy Approach magazine I pulled from a storage box at home to destroy just last week. It is now a keeper.
Mofak [Donald Cathcart}
Back to Back We Face the Past