These Marines took down the U.S. flag in Cuba in 1961. Today, they watched it rise again.
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It was a few days into January 1961 when three Marines at the U.S. Embassy in Havana were given a sad task: Take down the American flag. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was shutting down the diplomatic compound and pulling Americans out, a response to the downward spiral in U.S. relations with the new government of Fidel Castro.
The non-commissioned officer in charge at the embassy asked for three volunteers — “the biggest, ugliest Marines you can find,” recalled retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Jim Tracy, then a sergeant. He and two others — then-Lance Cpl. Larry C. Morris and then-Cpl. Francis “Mike” East — were sent out to part a crowd of about 300 Cubans and take down Old Glory, Tracy said.
“We didn’t have anybody on the sidewalks at all,” Tracy said in a State Department video released this week. “They knew what we were going to do.”
On Friday, the Marines, now in their 70s, returned to Havana alongside Secretary of State John F. Kerry to take part in a ceremony to raise the flag again. It has been more than 54 years since U.S. relations with Cuba were severed, but the embassy reopened following an agreement reached earlier this year between Havana and Washington.
Fifty-four years ago, you gentlemen promised to return to Havana and hoist the flag over the United States embassy that you lowered on that January day long ago,” the secretary said. “Today, I invite you, on behalf of President Obama and the American people to fulfill that pledge by presenting the Stars and Stripes to be raised by members of our current military detachment.”
Kerry called it a “healing mission” to raise the flag in Havana again.
“We are certain that the time is now to reach out to one another as two people who are no longer enemies or rivals, but neighbors, time to unfurl our flags, raise them up, and let the world know that we wish each other well,” Kerry said.
“I applaud President Obama and President Castro for having the courage to bring us together in the face of considerable opposition,” Kerry said.
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