Remnants of Grenada War still visible
ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada –
Although it’s been nearly 33 years since the U.S. invaded this obscure microstate in the Caribbean and ousted its pro-Soviet and pro-Cuban dictatorship, several surprising vestiges of that Cold War conflict may still be found on the island by those who venture off the beaten path.
“Do you see that clump of palm trees over there?” I was asked on the main beach by a man appearing to be in his late 50s, who, like most Grenadians, is a descendant of African slaves brought here beginning in the late 17th century by French and British landowners to work on the cotton, sugarcane, banana and spice plantations.
“When the American soldiers and Marines landed on the beach from the ships offshore the first day of the war, they walked through those same trees where the young ladies are now sitting,” said the fellow, who sells bottled water and snacks to the tourists, as he gestured toward a half-dozen young German women in bikinis lounging on the sand.
“The Americans, who wore helmets, uniforms and carried rifles and machine guns, were very polite to the tourists and Grenadians as they marched through the palms. Pretty soon that day, Oct. 25, 1983, American tanks, trucks, jeeps and helicopters also began arriving on the beach and the hotel grounds,” he continued.
Combat soon broke out in the nearby capital city, St. George’s, in the hills above town, in the countryside and at the nearly-completed Point Salines Airport, which was being constructed by an estimated 800 Cuban workers who were reservists in the Cuban Army.
When the war, which the Pentagon had named “Operation Urgent Fury,” ended a few weeks later, 19 U.S. service members had been killed and 116 wounded. As for their enemies, the Cubans and the approximate 1,500 soldiers of Grenada’s Peoples Revolutionary Army, more than 70 lay dead, 460 were wounded and 638 were captured.
The conflict, which was won decisively by the U.S. military and 350 soldiers from eight pro-Western Caribbean nations, had been authorized by President Ronald Reagan, who stated at war’s end that his primary goals had been met: To put down the Marxist revolution and support a new, democratically-elected regime, to prevent the Soviet-supported Cuban dictator Fidel Castro from an establishing Grenada as a new political and military ally, and to ensure the safety of the 700 American medical students at St. George’s University.
Later that day, at Fort George high in the hills above the city, my wife Ludie and I were greeted by another remnant of the war, a morbid remnant to be sure.
It was at this fort, a legacy left by Great British which had ruled Grenada for 190 years until granting it independence in 1974, where Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, a London-trained lawyer and protégé of Fidel Castro, along with 15 of his associates including his pregnant girlfriend, were murdered on orders of his chief of staff following a bloody power struggle between the two men.
Lined up in front of a brick wall in the fort’s inner courtyard, Bishop and the others were shot to death by a firing squad. Their bodies were carried off and have never been found.
As Ludie and I inspected the killing scene, which is easily identifiable by pockmarks in the wall left by the assassins’ bullets, a dozen members of the Grenadian Police Force, who are barracked at the fort, strode into the courtyard clad in tee shirts, shorts and athletic shoes and began playing basketball. The basketball hoop hangs just a few feet from a large bronze plaque memorializing the slain Bishop and the other 15, six of whom were women. What a strange, macabre scene we had stumbled upon!
I later learned that Bishop was no angel himself as he had ousted his predecessor, also a Marxist, in an earlier coup. That man, an eccentric and charismatic labor leader named Sir Eric Gairy, who had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, had once stated in a speech at the United Nations that mankind was being threatened by extra-terrestrials speeding around the world in flying saucers. Gairy also was a practitioner of “Obeah,” a folk religion imported to the Caribbean from Africa, that uses black magic, sorcery, the ritual killing of animals, exorcism, chanting and wild dancing to produce hexes, spells and other assorted misfortunes upon one’s romantic and political rivals.
Two or three days later, our long-time friends and hosts on Grenada, American expatriates Emily Vogler and her husband, Dan Flynn, drove us deep into the island’s rain forest to visit yet another powerful reminder of the Grenada War, which many here call the “Grenada Intervention.”
Following an hour’s journey along winding and narrow roads past spice plantations, groves of banana trees and local women balancing large bowls and cooking pots on their heads, we arrived at the long-abandoned Pearls Airport which the Marxist revolutionaries utilized to transport Soviet-made weapons and Soviet, Cuban, North Korean, Vietnamese, Bulgarian and Libyan military advisers from Cuba to support the coup.
It is there, at the end of the runway, that sit two rusting and deteriorating Soviet-made military aircraft, a single-engine Antonov-2R reconnaissance plane and a twin-engine, turboprop Antonov-26 cargo aircraft that brought in Soviet armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, AK-47 assault rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition.
The two airplanes, which were unable to get off the ground during the coup, bear faded Soviet and Cuban military markings, are surrounded by goats and cattle feeding on weeds and grass, and are vestiges of a fleeting moment of Cold War history, a moment that has been forgotten by many.
As for the runway at Pearls Airport, it now serves as the island’s sole drag-racing strip.
David C. Henley is LVN’s Publisher Emeritus.