By: Jack W. Serig, Sr.

    My personally memorable and only P2V Neptune flight had initiated from McCalla Field at NAS, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  About one-and-a-half hours later the Navy P2V crew had located their target within the many unpopulated islands off the north coast of Cuba’s Camaguey Province.  The aircraft commander set up the initial track and altitude to allow the on-board official navy photographer to take his wide-angle shots to capture the scene of the invasion fleet below.

    The Cuban government had apparently closed their eyes to what was happening in their own back yard.  They had allowed Cuban and Dominican persons of influence to purchase and man a sizeable invasion fleet of surplus WWII landing craft, of varying types. These craft were full of troops and equipment destined to hopefully unseat the ruthless Dominican dictator, Trujillo.  The size of the fleet of landing craft was impressive, as viewed from our P2V.  The fleet was using the islands off Camaguey for their ‘practice’ invasion prior to proceeding to the Dominican Republic.

    When the high-level runs for the wide-angle shots were completed the P2V pilot, a Lieutenant Sparks, made numerous low-level runs in order for the photographer to shoot individual ships to ID their names and numbers.  The soldiers-of-fortune on the ships, in WWII combat dress, cheered and waved their arms and weapons as we flew over them.

    As a very young Navy civil service employee at Guantanamo Bay at the time, how did I wind up able to view this small segment of history from inside a P2V?  My father was the senior civilian employed at NAS, Gtmo.  We were both single at the time.  We bunked and ate together in his quarters at the Aviation Officers Bachelors Quarters and Mess.  Thus, we met most all of the Navy/Marine pilots coming through on temporary assignments, such as the officers on this P2V crew.  Lt. Sparks, his crew and P2V squadron were permanently stationed at NAS Jacksonville, TDY’d to Gtmo. for this important intelligence gathering mission being run from the Pentagon.

    After several meals and converations at the mess hall Lieutenant Sparks invited dad and I to join his crew as civilian observers.  Understand that this was shortly after WWII, 1948, and regulations were still pretty loose.  Dad and I agreed that I’d take the first flight the following morning and he would take his turn the day after.

    On my previously described flight,  as soon as the photographer obtained all the pictures he needed we flew to the civil airfield at Camaguay for refueling before flying back to Gtmo. for my introduction to low-level flight.  As soon as we landed at Gtmo. another standby aircraft was loaded with the film our photographer had used and it took off immediately for D.C.

    The next morning it was dad’s turn.  When the P2V, with dad aboard,  flew over the islands off Camaguey the fleet had already left its sancturary.  The P2V spent several hours searching but could not locate the invasion fleet.

    From news articles of that time and personal memories, the fleet proceeded undetected until it got close to the Dominican Republic.  The Dominican caudillo threatened the fleet that he would send his WWII P-38 fighters, and other war planes,  to attack the fleet if they didn’t turn around and go back where they came from.  His fighter aircraft unit was commanded by a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who was well respected for his war record.  The invasion fleet turned back in retreat when the threatening war planes appeared.  However, one of the fleet’s more daring protective PT boat escorts got too close to shore and a Dominican land-based artillery barrage sank the PT boat.  I met the captain of the PT boat, coincedentally, while living in the western-most province of Pinar del Rio in the town of Mariel in 1949.  He corroborated his part of the story.

    I’ve always been very thankful to our Navy for providing me the opportunity to meet many of their superb aviation people and to fly many flights in  their aircraft.  It prompted my thinking several years before entering the Army that if I was ever called to serve my country flying was one of the things  I wanted to do.   Incidentally, my brother flew Neptunes for several years during his 28 year naval aviation career.