Cold War (1953-64)

“Escorting a Cuban Gunboat”

Memory from: George D. Van Arsdale

Setting the Scene

Guantanamo Naval Base is situated at the southeastern tip of Cuba. Like the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) on the Korean peninsula and West Berlin situated in the midst of Communist East Germany, Guantanamo was a potential flashpoint for hostilities during the Cold War. Ships and aircraft around the world played cat-and-mouse games, sometimes resulting in collisions like that of the USS WALKER (DD-517) and two Russian destroyers in the Sea of Japan in 1967 or the USS BATON ROUGE (SSN-689) and Soviet Sierra-class submarine BARRACUDA in 1992. George D. Van Arsdale, an Ensign aboard the KIDD, recounts one of these close encounters that occurred while aboard the KIDD.

The Recollection

In the spring of 1963, while the KIDD was at Gitmo [Guantanamo Naval Station] for post-overhaul refresher training, a Cuban gunboat, perhaps ninety-five feet in length, with a 40mm or so gun on its bow, came steaming through the Op area. We were both in international waters and she had every right to be there. Per SOP (Standard Operating Procedures), we were ordered to give chase and “escort” her through the remainder of the Op areas. This was part of a game that was played at Gitmo. Anyway, when we caught up, both ships steamed on a parallel course perhaps 1,000 yards apart at General Quarters, with all guns trained centerline. Our XO, LCdr. Porter May, took pictures to send to Naval Intelligence, and they [the Cubans] probably did the same. I was MPA (main propulsion assistant) then and watched from the hatch on the quarterdeck that led to the after engineroom. This was just an example of the hundreds of harassments that took place during the Cold War. Fortunately, this time, no one got hurt.

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