By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
In 1959 Fidel Castro had overthrown the Batista Regime and took over the government in Cuba. Our President John F. Kennedy had secretly funded a small group and attempted the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. This led to Castro’s dependence on Russia for protection and the establishment of missile sites that were well within the reach of a large portion of the United States. The United States retaliated with a naval blockade and for 13 days in October of 1962 the world stood ready for an atomic encounter.
I was old enough to remember the terror of an atomic bomb being launched in our direction. We were prepared or the possibility at school each day and it was all we heard on the news. Maps were shown pinpointing all the possibilities and capabilities of the missiles. East coast to west coast, the gulf to Canada, it was all within Cuba’s reach. Looking back the terror of it all seemed to last much longer than 13 days.
Later in the 1960’s there started a recurrence of aircraft hijackings to Cuba. They reached their height between 1968 and 1970 with some 30 flights hijacked in 1968. These were various sizes of aircraft ranging from a small Cessna 336 to the larger Boeing 720. The hijackings were due to the travel ban to Cuba as well as a political statement by Cuban loyalist. The hijackings hit home when a friend of ours Haco Boyd was traveling to an Insurance Convention in Nassau. Boyd was not only an insurance executive but the recently elected Mayor of Little Rock, AR. His flight left Miami and they were hijacked to Havana. There they spent the night and were allowed to return to Miami the next day. They continued their flight to Nassau without incident. Haco returned home with a great story which seemed to calm us about the hijackings.
In 1980 I was working as the Reading Clerk of the Arkansas State Senate and President Jimmy Carter had persuaded our young Gov. Bill Clinton to accept a large number of Cuban refugees. The refugees had been placed in Fort Chaffee which was an old training area for the National Guard. The number of refugees has always been disputed but there were somewhere around 19,000. They had become intolerant of their surroundings and had begun to riot. They had stormed the gates and headed into the nearby town. Working in the State house everyday it became evident the concern of the politicians was great. The fear of the citizens of that area as well as the State caused a rising tide against the young governor and he lost his bid for re-election. The Cuban crisis had come home and almost caused Bill Clinton his political career.
I had always wanted to go to Cuba and I suppose the reason I had was due to the legendary stories I had heard from those who had known Cuba in the Golden Days. The glamour days of the Havana Clubs, the Casinos, the people and the easy living was very appealing. I had a neighbor that had served there while in the Navy. Even on a military salary he had told of living like a king. He had a house, a car, a twin screw inboard boat and enough time to enjoy it all. He and others had told of the sport fishing there as being some of the best in the world. It all sounded great. I have waited for the day that it would be possible. Maybe it’s just around the corner. Watching the coverage of President Obama’s visit there while attending the Tampa Bay and Cuba baseball game only gave me greater hope.