Night Photo Flights over Gitmo Cuba from
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Webmaster's Note: VFP-62 flights over Cuba were based at NAS Key West. While carriers were assigned to the arena, only two photo reconnaisance flights originated from a carrier (USS Enterprise). Captain (then LT) Jim Curry made both missions. His story follows:
There were only two flights flown over Cuba from the Enterprise during the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) by our F-8U-1Ps and I flew both of them. The Marines at Gitmo heard noises on the other side of the fence at night and requested a photo mission at night to try and identify what they heard on the other side. On Nov 5, 1962 I launched from CVN-65 about 9 PM lined up on the Western perimeter fence and began the run over that fence line. The Marines positioned a jeep with headlights on at the Northern end as a reference point.
I flew that fence line, then the fence along the Northern boundary of the base from West to East, and then the Eastern fence line from North to South. I landed at the airfield there and the base photo mates got the film from the aircraft and went to their photo lab.
Unfortunately, they put the film in hypo first and wiped out any images. (Capt. Curry was flying plane number 913 (Bureau No. 145645)*. We did a rerun of this mission Nov. 17, 1962 and the film was properly developed, but did not reveal anything of significance on the other side.
An interesting note about the first mission was when I began the first run over the Western fence it was very close to the BOQ. Men in the BOQ heard the explosions from the photo flares and saw the bright lights and thought the war had started, and that they were being attacked with mortars. That first night after the film had been removed from the aircraft, I went to the BOQ to remain overnight and return to Enterprise the next day. When I got to the small bar at the BOQ there was still a lot of excitement and talk about the photo flares and the fear that generated.
Sometime about 2002 or 2003 in some exchanges of emails by Crusader Pilots, a Marine Pilot who was a Capt during the CMC was the OinC of a detachment of Marine F-8s from Beufort North Carolina to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was in the BOQ the night I flew the first night photo mission around the fence line. He later was in Vietnam for several tours flying both tactical aircraft and helicopters rescuing Marines and Soldiers who were wounded in battle and had many harrowing experiences in that combat services.
He described the night of the F-8U-1P photo mission as the most frightened he had ever been in his life. It was more horrific than anything he experienced in Vietnam or anywhere else. As they were relaxing in the assumed safety of the BOQ and military base, the occupants thought they were being attacked when they heard the explosions of the photo flares and the bright flash they produced. This Marine Pilot was a professor at a college in Virginia when he described the event. We exchanged some emails, but I apparently did not save the emails and do not have a record of his name.
[Webmaster's Note: The following account was received from Tom Boardman, a then, young Marine second lieutenant attached to the First Marine Regiment.]
AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF
When Lt. Curry flew the first photo-recon mission over the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, several thousand unsuspecting Marines were positioned along the base perimeter, prepared to defend it against attack by Cuban ground forces. Most of the Marine brigade members were resting or asleep at the time.
LT. JIM CURRY'S PHOTO-RECON MISSION AT GUANTANAMO BAY
Suddenly the night erupted with a series of brilliant flashes and loud reports suggesting incoming artillery. Startled Marines were instantly awake with feelings ranging from bewilderment to fright. As the Marines watched the flashes and heard the noises of continuing exploding magnesium photo flares ejected from Lt. Curry's aircraft, men clutched their rifles and strained to hear small arms fire, trying to locate the point of an attack; machine guns were cocked; hand grenades were placed at the ready; crew-served weapons were manned. The Marines were as confused as they were alert. The intruding airplane disappeared and the night became quiet once again, but the Marines were more awake than ever, and it would be hours before exhaustion replaced the adrenalin rush and allowed them to sleep. A readiness drill compliments of VFP-62!
Reconnaissance photographs taken by Lt. Curry showed groups of isolated Cuban soldiers on the other side of the fence, leaning on shovels and looking up at the streaking Crusader. From the photographs, it appeared that the Cuban positions were defensive only and did not point to an imminent attack on the base. No matter, the shock of that night surely remains in the permanent memories of the Marine eyewitnesses and, no doubt, is now the source of reunion laughs and a favorite among exaggerated stories told to grandchildren.
Jim Curry responds: "I think this is an outstanding account of that evening... As I mentioned to you earlier, what I appreciate most about your accounting of this recce flight, is that until your story, I never knew there was any useful information from the photography obtained. The Intel shop on USS Enterprise had no idea and as far as they knew, there was no useful information.
[Webmaster's Note: The following was contributed by Bill Newby, PHCM USN Ret., and a former VFP-62 photomate, who was assigned to the USS Enterprise during the Cuba Blockade. Bill received it from a ships company PH2 on the Enterprise. ]
When we were at GITMO, the Cubans used old cars and trucks at night with headlights on to run up against the fence. Since it looked like an invasion, the Marines could not let it pass even though they knew it was probably another hoax because as sure as they did, it would be the real thing.
The U.S. wanted to complain to the UN to put a stop to it. They needed proof, but they had to get the President's permission to take a night photo, because dropping a flash bomb is considered to be an act of war.
We had a third class petty officer who processed aerial film as his full time job. He had processed hundreds of jobs without a problem. The XO, Capt Harnish, called the lab every fifteen minutes demanding to know who was doing what. When he learned that the film would be developed by a third class, he was upset and demanded that the most senior man (besides the chief) develop the film.
That man was Nick K********, the most nervous and spastic man I have ever met. When he was at the Norfolk lab, he responded to a call to photograph an emergency landing. He ran to the jeep with a speed graphic, but he forgot the keys. Nick put the speed graphic down; ran back to get the keys, got the keys, ran back to the jeep and promptly ran over the speed graphic.
Nick was so nervous at having to process such important film that he rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. When the film came in, he dropped it in the first tank, which turned out to be Hypo since he set the tanks up backwards.
Bill Newby adds: "I seem to remember riding the back of Mr Curry's RF8 to the waist cats while the ship set condition HERO so the flares could be brought up from the armory. I locked down the flares and slid off and the plane was launched."
* 913 is being restored and will be exhibited at the Battleship Park, Mobile Al. - Webmaster
Created on ... August 30, 2007
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