Guantánamo Bay Cemetery Offers a View of the Base's History

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Politics|Those Buried astatine Guantánamo Graveyard Never Found Their Way Home

The U.S. subject cemetery astatine Guantánamo Bay offers a past of the century-old basal — minus the outpost’s war-on-terror mission.

Volunteers cleaning gravestones successful  Guantánamo Bay past  month. Few U.S. work  members are among the 330 oregon  truthful  radical   buried there.
Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Carol Rosenberg

Oct. 16, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — At archetypal glance, the graveyard down a roadworthy down a locked gross connected this distant U.S. Navy basal looks similar a miniature mentation of Arlington National Cemetery. But these marble headstones archer an wholly antithetic story.

Babies calved to Haitian refugees and to American sailors remainder here. So bash Greek and Norwegian merchant mariners, sailors from the British and Brazilian navies who died of illness a period ago, and Cuban time laborers who threw their batch successful with the United States aft the gyration successful 1959.

Most of the 330 oregon truthful radical buried successful these graves shared 1 communal bond: They ne'er recovered their mode home.

The Cuzco Well Cemetery is named for the tract of a conflict during the Spanish-American War wherever U.S. Marines seized a erstwhile coveted h2o source. Officially, it is unfastened connected this basal of 6,000 residents lone connected Memorial Day, a contented that began successful 1988.

But connected a caller Saturday morning, a sailor unlocked a gross and permitted a radical of volunteers to thrust down a windy roadworthy past scrubland studded with cactus and earth-covered ammunition bunkers to the site. They had travel to cleanable the achromatic marble headstones that beryllium successful neat rows, and successful doing truthful offered a uncommon glimpse inside.

Few U.S. work members are buried here. The oldest is Kumaji Makamota, a sailor who was killed successful an mishap aboard the battleship U.S.S. Indiana portion it was sailing disconnected Guantánamo Bay. His Navy records amusement helium was calved connected July 4, 1873 successful Nagasaki, Japan, enlisted astatine property 25 successful New York City, and died successful February 1902 portion moving arsenic a wardroom cook, preparing meals for the officers connected board.


Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times


Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times


Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

He was buried connected the basal 3 times, reflecting an epoch earlier the Navy sent fallen work members home. He started retired astatine the Old Spanish Cemetery adjacent what is present the Windward ferry landing, and his remains were aboriginal moved to a constituent successful the bay called North Toro Cay. Then, nether a 1940s consolidation effort that moved the remains of astir everybody who was buried connected the 45-square-mile base, Cuzco Well became his last resting place.

Six Brazilian sailors from the battleship São Paulo who died of influenza successful the aboriginal 1920 are buried present too. A fewer rows implicit rests “Vincent,” whose chromatic records thing else. He is flanked by Florence Bridges, who died astatine property 3 successful 1918, and Gertrude Myers Russell, a civilian worker of the basal who passed distant astatine property 29 successful 1922.

About 2 twelve graves correspond the migrant situation of the mid-1990s, erstwhile U.S. ships stopped tens of thousands of Haitians and Cubans from reaching the United States and sheltered them successful crowded structure lodging here. James Germain’s epitaph says “Haitian refugee,” and that helium was 6. An “Unknown Cuban refugee” died connected Jan. 27, 1994, and 2 different Haitians passed distant connected the Fourth of July the aforesaid year.

There is conscionable 1 hint of the wartime situation that has enactment a spotlight connected the basal since 2002: A chain-linked-fence enclosure marked “Islamic cemetery” that was acceptable up by an Army imam successful the earliest days of the detention mission.

But determination are nary war-on-terror prisoners buried here. The U.S. subject repatriated the remains of the nine men who died portion successful detention — 3 Afghans, 3 Saudis and 3 Yemenis.

More caller detention-era graves beryllium to Cubans who moved onto the basal successful the 1960s — mostly time laborers who chose the American broadside successful the early, tense days of Fidel Castro’s revolution, oregon sought sanctuary from harassment for continuing to enactment connected the base.

Relations truthful soured successful the years aft the botched Bay of Pigs penetration successful 1961 that a basal commandant offered longtime workers the accidental to slumber successful barracks-style lodging to spare them the humiliation of the regular commute. Word dispersed that those who stayed would beryllium capable to spell location successful astir six months.


Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

For men similar Harry Sharpe, that stretched into a lifetime.

He began commuting arsenic a time laborer, pushing a wheelbarrow for 12 cents an hr successful 1953, and began taking sanctuary connected the basal 10 years later. Other household members made their mode to the United States, but Mr. Sharpe chose to enactment until governmental alteration came to his autochthonal Cuba — either by Castro leaving oregon the United States lifting its embargo.

He died connected Nov. 17, 2016, the week earlier Castro, and rests beneath a tombstone that says, simply, “Cuban Exile.”

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