My father was one of Castro’s tens of thousands of political prisoners at the time, wondering when his turn would come at the paredon. My mother wondered too, but she didn’t have much time to indulge in things like despair. She was alone in a strange country, a penniless and friendless political refugee, with three kids to somehow feed, shelter, and school. Two nephews were also under a death sentence after fighting to the last bullet at the Bay of Pigs. (Actually, we had it relatively easy. Most Cuban refugee families of the time can relate to stuff ten times as hair-raising and heartbreaking.)
But a knock on the door in those early days and a burly stranger visible through the window wasn’t exactly comforting.Later in the suburbs, another family became even more special. Years earlier, the lady had worked at a local plant riveting the hulls on the famous Higgins boats, designed in New Orleans for oil companies to traverse the shallow coastal marshes, then tweaked for work on such as Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima.
These were “the boats that won WWII,” according to Ike. One such boat carried her fiancé to shore at Salerno, another at Omaha Beach. He clambered out of yet another Higgins boat after crossing the Rhine, where a burst from a German machine gun riddled his legs.
Almost 40 years later, I watched him limping up the aisle, grimacing slightly with each step. Then he broke into a huge smile– while handing me his daughter as a bride.
We landed in the South, but I’ve heard compatriots relate similar stories literally “from sea to shining sea.” Nobody called them “the Greatest Generation” back then. I guess the perspective wasn’t there in the 60s. But thousands of then-destitute Cubans recall them as “el pueblo que nos abrio los brazos” (The people who opened their arms to us.)
Our friends at Human Events help disseminate a few items much forgotten nowadays.