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Caroline resident recalls hasty evacuation from Cuba
By RUSTY DENNEN
Robert Zaluski was a 14-year-old freshman at William T. Sampson school on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
Zaluski, 65, who now lives in Caroline County, knew something was wrong one day late that month when a shop teacher told the students to take all the tools off the rack and put them in boxes.
“Normally, that was something we did at the end of the year,” Zaluski recalled.
Around the same time, someone came in the classroom to tell the students to sit down for an announcement that an evacuation was under way.
“The school buses picked us up early and took us home. My bus stop was one of the first, and my mom was already at the curb,” Zaluski said. His mother, Jean, and younger brothers Paul and Douglas were outside with a suitcase.
His father, Alfred, a Navy lieutenant, stopped by to tell them he’d be staying, and gave them a little information about what was going on.
“He said that something was going on between Russia and the United States. Mom was upset.”
The evacuees weren’t allowed to take much with them.
“We had a dog, but no pets could go with you,” Zaluski said.
A gray military bus picked up the family and dropped them off at a pier on the Navy base, where a transport ship and a Coast Guard cutter were waiting. They boarded the cutter, the USS Duxbury Bay.
Young children and their mothers were taken to one area of the ship; older teens went to another room.
“They told us to stay there until they gave us more directions. We wondered what was happening,” Zaluski said.
After the cutter got under way, the families were reunited.
“It was beautiful weather. Most everyone was outside on deck,” Zaluski said.
The ship churned into the bay, then stopped for a few minutes, “and we heard JFK’s announcement,” Zaluski recalled. Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, on Cuba’s southeast coast, now includes a detention and interrogation camp for military detainees from the war on terror.
Kennedy told the nation that Soviet missiles and launchers had been detected on Cuba and that a naval blockade had been imposed.
Their next stop, 2 days later, was the Navy base in Norfolk, where Zaluski’s father had served and younger brothers were born.
“So we knew a lot of people there,” he said.
The base supplied some warmer clothes. They stayed at the base airport until a military transport flew the family to New York, where Jean’s brother picked them up.
The New York Times did a front-page story on the Zaluskis and their journey from Cuba.
The family stayed in New York for about a month and a half, returning to Guantanamo after the crisis was over.
“Our main concern at the time was our dad,” Zaluski said. “But for a 14-year-old boy, it was exciting.”
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431