The three Marines who lowered the flag at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba 54 years ago will have the honor of raising it again Friday today as diplomatic relationships between the two countries are restored.
A moving video released by the U.S. Department of State Department on Wednesday shows retired Gunnery Sgts. gunnery sergeants Mike East and Jim Tracy and Cpl. Larry Morris reminiscing about their final day of embassy guard duty in Havana on Jan. 4, 1961. As they recalled lowering the flag more than five decades ago, some of the Marine veterans were brought to tears. a day that still brings some of them to tears to recall.
"To see Old Glory flying the last time in Cuba, you know, it was ... it didn't seem right. Seemed like something was wrong," East said.
The embassy had solicited for volunteers to bring the flag down, and the three Marines jumped at the chance.
"I think the [noncommissioned officer in charge] said something about 'the biggest, ugliest Marines you can find, send them down here,' " Tracy, then a sergeant and the highest-ranking of the group, said.
"And I said, 'Well, I'll be one,' " Morris said.
The Marines recalled how the crowds around the embassy parted as they came through. As they lowered the flag, they decided to take the time to fold it reverently in a brief final ceremony.
"That was a touching moment," East said.
Since that day, the Marines said they remember have often through fondly of their days in Havana fondly, and hoped for a future that would see a relationship restored between the U.S. in Cuba.
In keeping with President Obama's December 2014 announcement that relations between the two countries would be normalized, the three retired Marines joined are joining Secretary of State John Kerry in Havana today to see the flag fly above the U.S. Embassy once more.
The three Marines said they have waited decades for this moment. It's a moment they said they have been dreaming of.
"Me and Jim would be kidding each other about going back to Cuba and raising the flag, and he says, 'Would you go?' " Morris said. "I said, 'Jim, I'd pay my own way if I had to.' "