GUANTANAMO AND NATIONAL CATHEDRAL

By Jug Varner

Sometimes you can be involved in a special history and not even know it!

During a trip to the nation's capital, I took time to return again to see the historic Washington National Cathedral. This magnificent European-style structure began in 1907, when President Teddy Roosevelt officiated in the ground breaking. President George Bush officiated in its completion in 1988.

It is the sort of place one can't fully appreciate in a single visit. Those who have been there know that many of its colorful glass windows, gargoyles and stone inscriptions relate to American life experiences. Even a moon rock brought back to earth by the astronauts is now embedded in one of the windows.

I'm glad now that I returned a third time because I discovered something connected with my own personal history when I walked down the stairs to the lower level lounge area. In the wall above the first landing, I saw a stone inscribed with the letters “GTMO.” Immediately, I wondered if this meant what I thought it did? Those letters are the code word for the U. S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Back in 1963, I served there as the Public Affairs Officer. One of my duties was coordinating visits of the congressional, military and civilian VIPs who came to this isolated post during that era of Cold War confrontations with Russia and Fidel Castro. Also, as Officer-in-Charge of the Armed Forces Radio-TV Station there, I frequently interviewed some of them on TV so that everyone on the base would know who visited and why they were there. One of those I interviewed was Reverend Francis B. Sayer, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral.

Seeing “GTMO” etched in stone some 30 years later, I asked one of the Docents about it. She said that Dean Sayer had that particular stone inscribed in 1964 in honor of the 10,000 military, civilian, dependents and Cuban refugees then populating that unusual community.

We had a saying back then that “Gitmo is unique.” From the results of his visit there, apparently Dean Sayer agreed.