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George C. "Jerry" Ball, Jr., oral history interview, February 5, 1994

Date: Feb. 05 1994 | Identifier: OH0139
Captain Ball, a native of Arkansas, comments on his background and his experiences at the U.S. Naval Academy. He describes his assignment to the commissioning of the USS NORTH CAROLINA, appointment to submarine school, and submarine duty in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II. For the postwar period he recounts his experiences with submarine service headquartered in Panama, New London, CT, the Mediterranean, and Key West as well as assignments to the Pentagon. A detailed description is provided of his service as commanding officer of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including life at Guantanamo, relations with Cuba, Cuban refugees at the naval base, the coming of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the evacuation of dependents from the base. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon. more...



EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #139
Capt. George C. "Jerry" Ball, Jr.
USNA Class of 1941
Interview #1
Interviewer is Donald R. Lennon

Donald R. Lennon:

If we could start with your background, as a child.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Alright. My name is George Corneilius Ball, Jr. and my parents had a disagreement over naming me. My father wanted a Junior. My mother wanted to call me Jerry, and they both won and I have always had the nickname Jerry and the legal name of George Cornelius Ball, Jr., which has caused me endless problems over the years. My father was the manager of a department in a department store in the small southern town of Batesville, Arkansas. My mother was head of the Department of Speech at Arkansas College in my hometown, a small Presbyterian college. I was born in Memphis where my mother's home was, but grew up and lived all my young life in Batesville, Arkansas.

I was being groomed about the age of fourteen or fifteen to be successor to my father in the department store, and worked there in the summers and Christmas vacations and I hated what I was doing. I think it may have been this that encouraged me to decide to want to go to the Naval Academy. My father thought it was the next thing after being a fireman or a cowboy and didn't pay much attention, but my mother was listening. She helped me get an appointment to the Naval Academy through an influential cousin I had and I entered the Naval Academy in the class of 1941, entering in July of 1937. Although I was a National Honor Society student in a small southern high school, I found this wasn't



much to base my academic class standing on at the Naval Academy and I struggled to stay alive for the first couple of years, academically. I did engage in intramural track at the battalion level and had some success in the quarter mile.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was it primarily math and science that you were weaker on?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Spanish gave me a lot of trouble. That's a language designed for dumb football players. And mathematics, certainly calculus. I had quite a struggle with that, but I survived. I graduated in the upper eighty percent of my class.

My first assignment was to the battleship . . .

Donald R. Lennon:

No particular recollections of the academy, as far as discipline is concerned or any personalities of people you dealt with, such as Uncle Beanie?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

I went to a Naval Academy Prep School in Washington, D.C. called Randles Prep School. Mr. Randles was a graduate of West Point and his discipline at that prep school was tougher than my plebe year. It really was. Plebe year was a snap. I had no trouble with the hazing and no Southern boy has any trouble saying, "yes sir," and "no sir," to anybody. I was brought up that way.

Donald R. Lennon:

Several of your classmates were there at the same prep school.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

There were about fifty-five of us at the prep school and probably forty of us succeeded in entering with the class and perhaps half of those graduated. There were five of us here at this reunion last night that graduated and we all got a picture of us assembled together, Randles School classmates. My career at the Naval Academy was somewhat undistinguished. As I say, my main battle was to stay alive academically.

My first assignment after the Naval Academy was to the new battleship NORTH CAROLINA, still building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I was assigned to the engineering department for the whole year that I was on her. When the war started--Pearl Harbor--I knew that I did not want to continue in battleships. I was one of forty-five ensigns on the ship with a lot to do and no responsibility whatever.

Donald R. Lennon:

What were you all doing during that year that the ship was under construction?



What were your duties and responsibilities during that year?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

The ship was basically fitting out and undergoing engineering and gunnery tests. It was the first new battleship we'd built in twenty years. We were more time in the shipyard than we were at sea, but in December of '41, right after Pearl Harbor, we went down to Key West and conducted our final long-range tests of our big guns very satisfactorily. In the meantime, Pearl Harbor had occurred and I did not want to spend the war on that battleship. I put in for submarine duty, where I would have greater responsibilities, I thought, which turned out to be true. After graduating from submarine school in the summer of 1942, I went to a submarine in Panama, an old S-boat and I successfully rotated through all the departmental duties and finally became the executive officer of the submarine after about ten months on board. In the meantime, I had been promoted to full lieutenant.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, were you all in the Atlantic during this period?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Operating out of Panama and operating in both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the canal, supposedly in defense of the canal. The battle of Midway removed all threat to Panama from the Japanese carrier striking force and it was soon determined that we were no longer needed there.

Donald R. Lennon:

During that period you were in the Panama area, you never saw any indication of enemy subs or service?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

German U-boats would have been the only enemy around, and they were active in the Caribbean during that period, but not close to the Canal, and although we couldn't operate on the Atlantic side because of the possibility they might be there, we mainly operated over on the Pacific side. There were times when radio intelligence would tell us there were none in the area and we could go out and operate on the Atlantic side, but we certainly saw no action.

In late '42, we went back up to New London for re-deployment, to be a training submarine. In the meantime, I had qualified in submarines, won my dolphins, and somewhat to my surprise, my commanding officer also qualified me for command in



submarines and I was surprised at this because I was only twenty-two, twenty-three years old, and had not been in submarines but about a year. I thought, "Well, this is great to have it on my record, but I won't get command probably in all of World War II." Not so. In January of '44, I was ordered a command; my own submarine, which was the USS O-6, a small World War I built submarine, used by the submarine school for training the students.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now in '43, you were primarily operating out of New London?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Forty-two and '43, we were down in Panama. Late in '43 we went up to New London.

Donald R. Lennon:

OK, so it was late in '43 before you went up to New London.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

And operated as a training submarine up there for the aircraft; a tame target for the aircraft to work on. So, I had a great year, the whole of 1944, commanding the USS O-6. As it turned out, when I went up to pay my call on the Admiral, Commander of Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet, when I took command of the O-6, my squadron commander introduced me to the Admiral and said, "This is our youngest submarine commanding officer in the United States Navy." At that time, I was less than three years out of the Naval Academy, and I was only twenty-four years old and I didn't realize until that moment my distinction in that regard. But I also knew that I did not have much of a career in the Navy or certainly in submarines if I spent all of World War II on World War I submarines. So, I kept putting in for assignment to a boat in the Pacific and in January of 1945, I received orders--first to go to the prospective commanding officers' submarine school in New London, one month course, and then on out to the Pacific. I arrived out there about the first of April, 1945, and was assigned to be the prospective executive officer of the submarine SAND LANCE. This was a very famous submarine, and it had compiled a marvelous combat record of sinking Japanese ships. The commanding officer had three Navy Crosses. The executive officer, who later became a very good friend of mine, was Lieutenant Commander Gordon Glaes, out of the class of 1939. His previous duty had been executive officer of the O-6, the submarine I had just come from command of. We got along fine with



that common background. We sank one Japanese ship up off the Japanese island, the northern island of Hokkaido, where the hairy Ainu live. We were lucky to sink that one ship. In 1945, there was not much Japanese merchant shipping left.

Donald R. Lennon:

I was getting ready to say, the Japanese submarines were probably kind of hard to find, by spring of '45, were they not?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

That was our biggest worry. Japanese submarines . . . We knew we had sunk about twenty Japanese submarines. I thought then that the score was probably even. It looked like a fifty-fifty chance of whoever catches the other guy on the surface. It turned out we only lost one of our submarines to a Japanese submarine. We sank twenty-one or twenty-two of theirs, mainly because we had the advantage in radar. That was probably our worst worry. We had a device on board that would detect the high-pitched whine of a torpedo being fired, shortly after it was fired in the water at you. A man in the conning tower manned headphones and a small oscoscope and he could both hear and see when a sharp noise entered the water, particularly the whine of a torpedo. He could both hear and see this on his oscoscope. He was the only one besides the captain and the officer of the deck who had the authority to order, "Dive! Dive!" You didn't waste time discussing that when you heard that sound on your oscoscope. It always happened in the movies, about 8:30 in the evening. His voice was always high-pitched when he said it, "Dive! Dive!" The boat would go under and about a minute later everybody would suddenly release their breath. It probably happened a dozen times and I doubt if any of them were real torpedoes. They were probably fish noises that were high-pitched. We didn't discuss that.

Donald R. Lennon:

You didn't wait around to find out.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

That was probably the most exciting part of that war patrol, was that device. We came back from that patrol and the commanding officer, with his three Navy Crosses, went to shore duty. The executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Glaes, fleeted up to be the commanding officer and I became the executive officer in about July of 1945.

We made one more war patrol based out of Midway off the southernmost Japanese



island of Kyushu. There was no shipping to be seen. We did not get to rescue an aviator, which would have given us a successful war patrol. We just saw nothing. We did nothing except sit out there and hope a Japanese submarine didn't catch us on the surface.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was that probably true of most of the American submarines at that point?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Most of the boats were going through the same thing at that time. There was not much shipping left. But I do recall the end of the war. A message came in from Commander Submarine Force of the Pacific Fleet to "Cease wartime operations and maintain a very close alert." The war was over and that was on the fifteenth of August, I believe, 1945, and we were off the coast of Kyushu at that time. The captain called me in and said, "Jerry, how much of that medicinal brandy do we have on board?"

I said, "Captain, I've already computed it. It works out to about three ounces per man, maybe a double shot."

He said, "Let's issue it out and have a party." We did so.

About four hours later we got a message from the Commander Submarine Force Pacific Fleet and it was very short. It said, "Splice the main brace." That's an old time honored British signal, which means, "Hoist one on the king." We had nothing left with which to splice it, but it legitimized what we had already done.

The next message we got, the next day, was to return; not to Midway, not to Pearl Harbor, but all the way to San Francisco for inactivation. The first thing that was said was, "Four engines on the line,” a course back to Midway, where we picked up some fuel. The second was a loud cheer throughout the boat.

Donald R. Lennon:

I bet.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

And that was the end of my World War II service.

Donald R. Lennon:

Something I've never asked and I've thought of it before. I know that you wouldn't have had any problem adapting to subs and particularly, except for the brief period you were on the NORTH CAROLINA, because it was your total service, but did any of the enlisted men have any problems adapting to the closed environment of the submarine?



George C. Ball, Jr.:

A very good question and the answer is no for a couple of reasons. One thing, we were all volunteers. People with claustrophobia do not volunteer for submarine duty. The second is that at the submarine school, they found out that about the best device to eliminate people who might not be really fit for submarine duty was the submarine escape tower, a hundred foot tower, which you locked in at the bottom and then went up through one hundred feet of water, with the old Mommsen lung on. Later we learned to [?] do it without the Mommsen lung and that eliminated the very small number of people who really weren't psychologically suited for submarine duty. It was better than all the psychologists' test that we ever gave. People who survived that had no trouble getting by the psychologists, who thought we were all nuts anyway because they didn't want any part of submarine duty.

Donald R. Lennon:

I can't imagine serving in a submarine

George C. Ball, Jr.:

When the war ended . . . By the way, during my tour as commanding officer of the O-6, I could see a year of almost banker's hours ahead of me and I had a very fine girlfriend, who was a nurse, the daughter of an Army colonel, Elizabeth King, Betty. She's here with me now. I asked her to marry me in January of 1944, just as I was taking command of the boat. She had her orders in hand to be a second lieutenant in the Army Nurses Corps, and her first duty assignment; orders in hand and commission in hand. She hadn't signed them--accepted them--yet. I barely beat her to that with my proposal to marry her. She tore up the orders and tore up the commission and her father, who was an Army colonel, I'm not sure ever forgave me for that. He had four daughters and wanted to send a son to West Point. He was finally about to have a child of his in the Army and I thwarted him. We have our fiftieth wedding anniversary coming up this year.

Let's see. We're back in San Francisco decommissioning the SAND LANCE at the end of the war, and from that duty, I was assigned to be executive officer of a group of six moth ball submarines at Vallejo, California, in the back channel, where we had about seventy-five of them tied up after being decommissioned. This wasn't very career awarding duty, so I quickly put in for active submarine duty and in July of '46, I was ordered to



Panama to be executive officer of one of the boats down there. My wife, as an Army brat, had been there with her father in high school in the middle 1930s. I can still remember her squeal of delight when she heard we were going back to Panama. She loved it. I had liked my duty in Panama on the S-boat in 1942 and 1943.

We were delighted with those orders and I had a very fine, though brief career as executive officer of the USS CONGER, based out of Balboa Canal Zone on the Pacific end of the Canal. We conducted pro-submarine and anti-submarine training in the Bay of Panama for a number of months down there and then I was due for shore duty. We liked Panama so much that I applied for shore duty in Panama and was I pleasantly surprised to receive orders to be the legal officer of the submarine base there on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. Now, this was sort of brain surgery, self-taught.

Donald R. Lennon:

I was wondering, did you have any kind of legal background?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

I had been involved in it on the battleship NORTH CAROLINA, where I did all the paperwork preparing for court-martial and actually was the prosecutor in thirty or forty courts-martial. That was my only legal experience, but it made me meticulous in my paperwork. I actually thought I was pretty well-prepared to be the legal officer of the submarine base and I had no trouble with the duties. I was mainly involved in the discipline of troops; bringing men up on charges before the captain and making sure that all that paperwork was well handled. During that time, I had a bigamy case, which I tried and successfully prosecuted; and I had rape case, in which I managed to get the two boys off. We discovered that the girl involved was a Panamanian prostitute. My other duties were inter- and intra-family quarrels. I got mixed up in those. I had a team of a doctor and a chaplain that I took with me. Those things are dangerous to get mixed up in, as the police know. Very exciting and short tour of duty.And then, I got what turned out to be a most marvelous assignment. They were setting up unified commands all over the world in 1947 and we were going to set up the Caribbean command in Panama, which would be a unified command--Army, Navy, Air



Force. The commander-in-chief was to be Lieutenant General Willis D. Crittenberger, a very distinguished Army Corps commander in World War II. I got a call from Washington and was asked if I'd be interested in the job of being his naval aide, that he would rate a naval aide in that capacity. I said I would, but I said, "I have to get my own commanding officer's release, though, before I go."

They said, "Call me right back, if you can get that."

I called back and said, "The commanding officer is willing to let me go."

They said, "Now you have to go be interviewed by General Crittenberger to see if you're satisfactory to him." I went over there and the first thing that happened was, I discovered the problem of my name; of George G. Ball, who's from an old army family. General Crittenberger had my record in front of him and he thought he knew who was coming up there. He thought it was George G. Ball, whose family he knew well.

I walked in and he said, "Young man, you're not the George Ball I was expecting."

I knew about George's Army background and I said, "No, sir. He's a classmate of mine." However, one of first things that occurred to me to say was that my wife was an Army brat, and that got the conversation going pretty well and I got the job. I had a marvelous year working for General Crittenberger at Quarry Heights Canal Zone, involved in the defense of the Canal, the organization and support of our troops in the Caribbean and in the South American area, and dealing with the government of Panama, the government of the Panama Canal, and with the three armed services there in Panama. While I wasn't influential in any of this, I got to watch it all at very close level. After a year, General Crittenberger was reassigned to the United Nations command in New York to be our senior military representative up there. His relief was Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgeway of 82nd Airborne Division fame in World War II, later Chief of Staff of the Army.

General Crittenberger said, "If you want to stay on with him, I recommend that you do, because he's going to be a Chief of Staff of the Army one day, and it will be a great experience for you to work with him." I did get the job to stay on with Ridgeway. By that



time, I knew everybody in the Canal Zone and the government of Panama and the Diplomatic Corps and could be a great help to him in all the things he would have to learn very quickly. I was still exchanging Christmas cards with General Ridgeway in 1990. He died this past year. We had a marvelous relationship with both the Crittenbergers and the Ridgeways.

At the end of that period, in 1949 . . .

Donald R. Lennon:

Is there anything in particular going on in Panama at that time that was particularly noteworthy?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Things were pretty quiet in Panama at that time. There were no riots. There were no coup d'états. Unusually quiet in Panama at that time, and I don't recall any newsworthy, major newsworthy developments. We were busy, but with nothing important.

Donald R. Lennon:

It was crisis-free duty.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yes, it really was. At the end of my tour of duty at Quarry Heights, I got orders to be executive officer of a submarine again, back to New London to be executive officer of USS RATON. I was only aboard the RATON about three months and it was ordered to go out of commission to be converted to a guppy. Usually the skipper of the submarine goes on to some great new job and the exec gets stuck with the dirty job of putting the ship out of commission. Not so in this case.

I got ordered to the staff of the Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet, to be Assistant Naval Reserve Coordinator on the staff to work with our naval reserve people in submarines. Admiral Jimmy Fife was Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet in those days, and I had several months of working up there on the staff with him. In June of 1950, I bought a house in New London, because I had been told I was going to get command of a New London submarine before long. Within the month after I bought the house, the Korean War started and all bets were off.

I got ordered to put a boat back in commission out at Vallejo, California, Mare Island, where I had put submarines out of commission before. Now, I was to put one of



those submarines back in commission as commanding officer. I flew out there and we found out the boats had been well put out of commission. We were able to put one back in; in less than thirty days from the time we all reported on board we had it ready for operational training.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, when you were sent out there to put one in commission, it was designated which one you were to put in commission, rather than you going out there and trying to find the one that's in the best condition.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They'd already decided in Washington which boats to put back in commission and this was the USS ENTEMEDOR, which had a good record in World War II, but which counted for nothing now. We put it in commission. We went through our refresher training in San Diego and then began the several thousand mile trip. We were fortunate enough to be reassigned to New London, where my family was waiting in the house that I had bought the previous June. We had found out before we left we were probably coming back to New London, so I left her there with the children because I was going to be too busy to see much of her--putting that boat in commission and bringing her around--anyway. We came back to New London and arrived in a snow storm in March of 1951 and had a marvelous nine months operating the ENTEMEDOR in Long Island Sound, where I had commanded the O-6 many years before.

We were a very successful submarine. I had a fine group of officers and marvelous men, and we were very disappointed in the fall of 1951 to learn we were going to go out of commission for a conversion, and we'd break up the crew and everybody would be reassigned. I was fortunate enough to get orders to command a newly-converted guppy submarine out of Norfolk. I flew down to Norfolk and took command of the USS TENCH. Within hours after I took command of TENCH, we sailed for the Mediterranean to join the Sixth Fleet. We were a very successful submarine over in the Sixth Fleet. Of course, this was all peace time duty, but we had an exciting time making coordinated tacks with another submarine against the Sixth Fleet ships, and NATO exercises with Italian and French ships,



and I had several weeks of very exciting and very successful duty.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, you've mentioned the outbreak of the Korean War, of course, there in '50 and as a result, recommissioning the ENTEMEDOR. Submarines really weren't used. There was no use for them in the Korean War.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They made one or two operations over there against the Korean coast, the land commandos and things like that, but in each case, they had to be covered by destroyers. Our destroyers covered the submarines going in. The destroyers could just as well have landed the commandos. The destroyers broke the secrecy of the operation by their presence. It was just a way to try to see if we could use the submarines in some method and to test out some amphibious ideas that we had with submarines.

Donald R. Lennon:

But if they were trying to send the commandos in surreptitiously, it looks like they would have left the destroyers out and let the submarines . . .

George C. Ball, Jr.:

You're quite right. I didn't consider it a worthwhile operation. It was just to try to get us on record as having done something in the war. It wasn't that type of war. There was no merchant shipping to attack.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's what I was thinking.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yeah. Let's see. We brought the TENCH back from the Mediterranean after about six weeks over there.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was this still in '51 or '52?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

1951.

And operated out of Norfolk in training exercises until the late fall when we went down to Charleston Naval Shipyard for an overhaul. During the overhaul, I was relieved of command. I had my two years of submarine command and I had orders to go to the Pentagon, to the Office of Chief Naval Operations in the Fleet Operation Division, where I had the submarine and amphibious desk in Fleet Operations, controlling at that level the assignment, mainly, of both our amphibious and submarine forces; and I was also involved in fleet planning there for a two-and-a-half year period.



Donald R. Lennon:

What kind of confusion came about when you were in the Pentagon, with regard to your classmate, George Ball?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

He was also assigned to the Pentagon at one time while I was there, and the Pentagon put out a big thick phone book. Now, George C. comes ahead of George G., alphabetically. Somehow he managed to get himself one line ahead of me in the Pentagon phone book, due to a typographical error, I think. That was the only interesting part of the confusion of our names at that point.

Donald R. Lennon:

But you didn't wind up with any assignments that were due for him, or any concerns from higher up with regard to job performance or what you're doing?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

No. They had us pretty well straightened out on that. He was a destroyer man and I was a submarine man. That helped separate us.

We bought a house in the Washington area in Springfield; the newly developing Springfield area which is now fifty thousand people. We bought the four hundredth house at that newly evolving development. I think I paid $17,500 for a three bedroom house in those days.

At the end of that time, we sold the house and I was ordered back to sea duty, to be executive officer of the big submarine tender in Key West, the USS HOWARD W. GILMORE, which was scheduled, if I did well in that job, to lead to a submarine division command the following year. That was a fairly routine assignment; executive officer of a large ship with a crew of about nine hundred. We did very well on that tour of duty.

Donald R. Lennon:

Wasn't that quite a departure for you from what you were accustomed to in your command?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It was, in that it was a different type of duty, but it was one I expected. It was the normal progression; if you were successful in commanding submarines, you moved up to executive officer of a submarine tender, and then the following year to command a division of submarines. About one out of every three submarine skippers, if they were successful, got to command a division of submarines, and I was fortunate enough to get that assignment



the following year.

By the way, we built a house in Key West, starting out with buying a lot, drawing up plans--I did this all in forty-eight hours with a builder who helped me with the lot buying, and I flew back to Washington to finish my duty up there and the house, when we got to Key West, was half-way under construction with about six more months to go before we could get to move into it. We paid $19,000 for that house with a $15,000 mortgage and $4,000 down. At the end of being in the house a year-and-a-half, I sold it for $23,000 and therefore, took $8,000 out after putting $4,000 in. It was a very successful house all the way. It was as if somebody had paid me $200 a month to live in the house.

We liked Key West and from there, I was ordered back to the Naval War College as a student, took the senior course at the Naval War College. A great year; sort of a sabbatical for an active naval officer if you get a chance to think and study for a year.

From there, I was ordered back to Washington. I wanted to go back to sea, but I was ordered back to Washington to the Joint Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This was a prestigious assignment for a commander. I spent six months in the Office of the Chief Naval Operations, Manpower and Personnel Office, before I went down to the Joint Staff. I had no background in high-level personnel management. I got six months down in the Navy's personnel office before I went to the Joint Staff. It very well prepared me for my duty down there and I had a great two-and-a-half years in J-1, which was Manpower and Personnel of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, working for a brigadier general, who was an Army brigadier general and my boss there; this being the third Army general I've worked for. They were all very much interested to know that I was married to an Army brat. It helped the work along very well.

Donald R. Lennon:

During that period, was it fairly common for cross-service assignment; the naval officers to be assigned to work under Army officers and vice versa? I know it's done now, but I wasn't aware that it was done in the fifties.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

At that time, it was not that common. I think I was fortunate to get all this cross-



service, joint staff duty. It has become a requirement; in order to get promoted to admiral or general you have to have significant joint duty on your record. I had no trouble getting that on my record. I had a lot of it and I enjoyed doing it.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's really surprising because you don't really hear of it that much during that period.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

I know where all the bodies are buried in the Army. I know a lot of secrets about the Army the Army would rather I didn't know. General Ridgeway wrote me a marvelous fitness report one time. You get this about every six months in your service career. In one statement in the record, which was glowing--I didn't think I deserved it--he said, "This officer puts loyalty to the Joint Staff ahead of loyalty to own service." Then he sent it out to me. He said, "Jerry, would you take a look this before I send this on to Washington?"

I said, "General, I don't deserve what all you've said here for me, but there's one statement that I wonder about, 'puts loyalty to Joint Staff ahead of loyalty to own service.' I'm not sure how well that is going to be received in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. I wonder if we could delete that."

He said, "I see your point," and took it out.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was there a great deal of jealousy between the services? I know there always has been.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

There always has been. It's almost traditional. It stems from the Army-Navy game perhaps. The Navy and the Air Force, particularly, have engaged in some real donnybrooks over the years. The Secretary of the Navy resigned one time because the Air Force managed to get Congress to cancel a carrier. But this is the way things work in Washington. Everybody is fighting for that dollar, and if you can cut your opponent's throat to get some more dollars, you do it. It didn't get to my level. The jobs I had, I wasn't involved in that, even though I was in joint service. We thought it was a joke and I worked well with my Army lieutenant colonel and Air Force colonel colleagues in the same office. We were all part of a team; getting the job done while the fighting was going on upstairs.



Let's see. I spent two-and-a-half years in J-1. In the meantime, I got promoted to captain. In 1957, I was very surprised to find my class up for selection to captain and I was successful in passing that selection board.

Donald R. Lennon:

That is early.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

And discovered that in seventeen years, I'd gone from mid-shipman to four-stripe captain. Now, so did all my classmates, so this was no particular plaudit in my direction. It was the Cold War that drove us up, and we had gotten into World War II just ahead of the game. We had graduated before the war started and ahead of all those reserves and other people who came in afterwards, and that pushed us up rapidly. The Cold War wasn't all that bad.

Donald R. Lennon:

I can't help but think about the poor officers who came in, say, during the World War I period, and during the twenties and thirties remained at the rank of lieutenant or what have you because there was no promotion.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

I have a story about that. My father-in-law was a very fine Army officer, coast artillery type; spent seventeen years as a major between World War I and World War II. So did General Eisenhower. As a matter of fact, they were classmates at Command & Sav (?) School Fort Leavenworth in the late twenties, and they both spent seventeen years as majors. That was par for the course in the slow days between those two wars. You can see how much the Russians accelerated our promotion in the Cold War.

Let's see. From the Joint Staff job, I got a call from the Bureau of Navy Personnel that said, "You're not senior enough to get a ship yet."

Donald R. Lennon:

Now is this '57 or '58?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

I wanted to go back to sea duty. We're talking about 1961. They said, "You're not senior enough to get a ship yet,” which is what I wanted--command of a deep draft ship, a big ship. "We can offer you the job of commanding officer of the Naval Station in Guantanamo."

I expressed surprise and I said, "That's sort of a pre-retirement job."



"No, it's not now. Things are very hot in Guantanamo, in Cuba. The Bay of Pigs has just happened. The admiral wants a new captain, a young captain on the way up, rather than a captain about ready to retire, in that job." He said, "It's a two-headed job. He also wants you to be his Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in Guantanamo."

I said, "With those two jobs, I'd be glad to have it." It sounded like a pretty good assignment in that period of time, in the early 1960s. Castro had only been in power for a year or so. So, in July of 1961, my family went by transport from New York down to Guantanamo. We arrived and I was dressed in my white, tropical uniform. The admiral met us at the pier with the executive officer of the naval station. My predecessor had already retired and had called on me in Washington to tell me about the job. When we stepped on the ground and I saluted the admiral, he said, "Start the base defense exercise. Captain Ball is here, and he is the Director of Operations for this exercise." A very exciting time.We conducted a base defense drill about every six weeks down there. We didn't know what Castro's intentions were, so we did several things about it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, you hadn't had a chance to plan. Had they already been planned for you?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They walked me through the exercise, of course. It was all set to go. All they wanted of me was me there physically on board. But it was interesting to have him say, "Start the exercise," as I stepped on the dock.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, had you ever been to Guantanamo before?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Many times. As a matter of fact, I'd been putting it on my card as a prospective duty assignment for many years, because I had taken a submarine in there and operated out of there and I thought, "Well, this is great shore duty," but I had never envisioned myself as the commanding officer of the Naval Station. I thought it'd be a minor staff job somewhere or a training job, you know.

Well, the exec's wife took my wife up and my four sons--I had four sons by this time--and got them installed in their quarters and we had a great forty-eight hour exercise



with tin hats, cactus, lizards, and all sorts of things, on the field. We had a battalion of naval infantry to support the Marines. We'd taken every man we could find that we didn't have to keep the naval job going down there and formed them into a battalion of naval infantry. One of my jobs was to command the battalion of naval infantry. Now, I'm commanding officer of the naval station. I was the Director of Operations, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations for the Admiral. I was Commanding Officer of the Battalion of Naval Infantry. I was the captain of the port, with all of its responsibility, for ships entering and leaving and berth assignments and all that. I was the MSTS representative for the MSTS ships that came in, and helped with the MSTS ships. I had a very busy job down there, a lot to do. I was also the officer in charge of evacuation planning. We had a planning team in case we ever had to evacuate our families, and they already had a pretty good evacuation plan worked up. I called the planning team in and we worked it over again, and it turned out, we actually used that plan a number of months later.

Donald R. Lennon:

How many dependents were there on the base?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We had three thousand wives and children. About fifteen hundred military, that is, naval personnel. We had a battalion of Marines, about five or six hundred Marines and they were a great comfort to have down there and my job as Commanding Officer of the Battalion of Naval Infantry was made easier. Mainly, I turned my battalion over to the Marines to actually deploy and run, while I supervised their training. I took them out to the rifle range and made sure they were organized into companies and squads and weapons sections and things like that.

Donald R. Lennon:

This was far removed from your experience over the past years.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Guantanamo was an exciting tour of duty for me and for my family. It was a great tour of duty for my family.

Donald R. Lennon:

What was the style of life for the families down there then?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It was like a small, I'd say Southern, town--like the town I'd grown up in. I was a mayor of a part of the town, in effect. We had enough family housing. We had all of the



recreational facilities we'd been able to devise, because we had been shut off with Castro's introduction; shut off from going into Cuba. So we had every form of hobby shop, ball fields, swimming pools, skin diving, sail boating, everything. It was like living on a resort; like living here.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you have any Cubans who came over?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

At that time we had twenty-five hundred Cubans still commuting in and out of the gate. These people had worked for us for many years. They were very--loyal may not be the right word--but they caused us no trouble and they did marvelous work. These were technicians who worked in my--

Donald R. Lennon:

And Castro wasn't trying to interfere with that?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

To some extent. He would implant, you might say, his spies--his supporters--where he could among his working force. With twenty-five hundred people, there were bound to be some pro-Castro people there. In general, our people were anti-Castro. We believed that we knew who the half a dozen or so spies were. They were not troublemakers, because if they were troublemakers, we just fired them. If we fired one, someone else might take his place and we might not know who he was, so we did not fire them quickly. We were just as soon content to know who that guy was, as long as he was not a troublemaker.

Donald R. Lennon:

But he didn't try to prevent them from coming there to work, huh? He didn't try to close the gate, in other words.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

He did not. He did say however, that no new Cubans could get jobs. We were stuck with the twenty-five hundred.

Donald R. Lennon:

I wonder why he didn't try to cut it off economically.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

This was a source of dollars, American dollars; a large source. He would confiscate their pay and change them into pesos, on a one-to-one basis, as they came out of the gate on payday. We caught one of his people smuggling the payroll out of the gate. We tried to protect the payroll. We wanted Castro to believe we were paying somewhat less than we were actually paying them. We did not have a bank on the base, but for example, we had a



marvelous Cuban maid. My wife paid her in U.S. dollars and the Cuban militia would take her dollars away from her and give her pesos. The black market rate was ten to one. She only got one for one, so my wife became her banker. She would take half her money and pay and Betty would keep the other half on the books for her, against the day when she might be able to get it out without having to exchange it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did they search them to make sure they weren't smuggling it out?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They searched them. They even strip-searched the women, using women militia to do so. You couldn't take out a sandwich without it being confiscated by the guards. We also checked them pretty closely. Our Marines checked them when they came in the gate in the mornings, but we didn't strip-search them. We just made sure we knew what was being brought in.

Donald R. Lennon:

Searching for weapons or explosives or anything.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yeah. We had a marvelous relationship with our Cuban employees and there were a lot of people in Cuba trying to get into the base as refugees. They would swim in. They would come over the fence, at the danger of being shot. One time an airplane landed with eight Cubans aboard in a small crop-duster aircraft.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you send them back when that happened?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

No.

Donald R. Lennon:

Or did you accept them as refugees?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We had a deal with them. If they would work on the base and not attempt to get out of the base and go back to the United States--this caused immigration problems and embarrassed the Navy if they did that-- we would provide them jobs on the base, we would provide them living space in Cuban barracks, with Cuban cooks cooking Cuban meals for them and we had five hundred refugees on the base when I got there.

Donald R. Lennon:

You can only do so much of that, though, before you'd have too large a population to deal with, wouldn't you?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We were labor short. We could use all that came in. If they were untrained, we



would train them into machinists or whatever we needed. We got along well with them, but there was constant pressure of them trying to escape to the United States. They wanted to get to the United States where they had friends and relatives. Many thousands of Cubans were already trying to get out of Cuba, under the early Castro regime, and this was their doctors and their lawyers and their professional people. They were the first people that Castro, in effect, destroyed and they knew that they were being destroyed and they wanted to get to the United States.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, did they try to smuggle themselves into ships leaving or did they try to get boats?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

This is interesting. Several different forms of stowing away. We had merchant ships coming in to bring supplies to the base. We very quickly found out that they were using the merchant ships; actually, the mates on the ships were selling passages. We started searching all the ships. We would try to make the skipper sign a statement that there were no stowaways aboard. That wouldn't work very well. Finally, we had to resort to tear-gassing the holds. This was interesting. We would start tear-gassing hold number one and there'd be nobody in it; tear-gassing hold number two--meanwhile, there are Cubans on the dock getting more and more nervous--finally, we would get to hold number three, “Uno Momento, uno momento, let us talk to our friends!" They'd call down to hold number three and ten Cubans would come out. One time, we shipped forty excess housing trailers over to Puerto Rico. We searched those house trailers very carefully at three different points before they were shipped. They were all empty, but when they got to Puerto Rico, there were forty Cubans in those house trailers. Very embarrassing for the admiral.

Donald R. Lennon:

There was no cargo on the ships when they were leaving Guantanamo, was there?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Oh, yes. There was cargo on them. They only brought some stuff into Guantanamo and then they went to other ports to unload other cargo.

Donald R. Lennon:

But the tear gas wouldn't contaminate the cargo?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We were selective about that. If it were fresh fruit or something like that in that



hold, we would not tear-gas that hold, we'd just search it very carefully. One afternoon, the base chief of police who was a Navy lieutenant, tear-gassed the hold of one ship. He would put the tear gas in a GI can, a metal GI canister, because when it popped, it produced a small explosion. This was a safety precaution. This one popped and actually blew off the lid of the can, which it was supposed to do, it was supposed to do that. Apparently, some small smoldering embers, the chief of police saw them go down in the hold. He brought the fire team down there and the fireman searched the hold for an hour to make sure there were no smoldering embers remaining and finally we gave it the all-clear and proceeded onto other business. That night a fire broke out in that hold and at midnight I was down there watching my fire fighters fight a tremendous fire in the number three hold of this ship. It destroyed a lot of cargo, including the household effects of some of our people, it was being shipped out, back to the States, on this ship. They lost it all and Navy insurance covered the cost. Of course, the ship sued the Navy and I had to conduct an official Board of Investigation and my investigating officer blamed the chief of police, so I decided the chief of police had taken every possible precaution. He was doing it at the direction of the admiral and I cleared him, financially and from a Navy point of view, of any misdoing whatever. I gave him my full support.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now was the chief of police a naval officer, too?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

He was a Navy lieutenant. He handled traffic offenses and minor disciplinary problems, on sort of a civil basis. If a wife was caught speeding, he took care of that. It didn't get across my desk.

Donald R. Lennon:

There was no civilian component in the government structure.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We had no U.S. federal judges, for example. The Navy was in full control. The admiral said, "I'm glad to have it this way." We had a wife shoot at and hit her husband. The only thing he could do was send her back to the States. He had no authority to court-martial her or send her to prison or anything. It was a clear-cut case. There was no doubt about her guilt. All we did was ship her back to the States.



Donald R. Lennon:

And let her be tried there.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

There was no trial there. They didn't have jurisdiction. It was interesting. Later the husband tried to get her back. She just nicked him in the finger. One of the five shots hit him in the finger.

Donald R. Lennon:

Even if she had killed him, there would have been no jurisdiction.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

I don't think there was a thing we could have done about it. Such cases were rare.

Donald R. Lennon:

That would offer an interesting prospect for someone who wanted to dispose of . . .

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We had a problem there. We had a full four-stripe captain who was a lawyer, who was the base legal officer. He went to the admiral and, with me, he said, "We've got a big problem. We've got all sorts of people on this base and among all these numbers of people--nurses, school teachers, eighteen year old girls still in high school--we have a number of people who want to get married. We have no civil authority to do that. We can handle this problem very easily if we can get authority from the Chief Naval Operations to fly them over to Puerto Rico, where there is civil authority, marry them, and bring them back to the base. Easy procedure, we just don't have the authority. Here's a message I've drafted, Admiral, for your release to ask the Chief of Naval Operations if he will grant us this authority."

The message hit the morning briefing up in Washington, the briefing for the Chief of Naval Operations. It described the situation on the base and all these people who needed to get married and the bottom of the message said, "Request you expedite the approval--the need is urgent." They said it broke up the meeting that morning in the admiral's office up in Washington. We did have some pregnant people on the base. One of the interesting things that went on down there, that made the tour interesting and exciting. In the late summer of 1962, we started receiving all sorts of reports from our Cuban employees and they were quite--again, I hesitate to use the word loyal--but they were quite helpful to us. They would come and say, "This installation over here in Cuba," and, "that one over there in the other



part of Cuba. Something is going on there and something is being built there, so secret, by the Russians, that Cubans are not even allowed in there." We would process these reports and send them on to Washington.

As the summer turned to fall, we could feel a tension in the air. There were all sorts of Russian ships coming in, with heavy industrial equipment of all sorts, into Cuba. We were putting our planes in the air and flying over and photographing these ships, but what was on deck was canvas covered. We couldn't tell what it was. I could feel the tension growing. In early October of 1962, I went up to see the admiral and said, "Admiral, we ought to have another briefing of our families on the evacuation plan. We've done this before and I think we ought to do it again to refresh their memories."

He said, "Jerry, it's gone beyond that. To do so would cause more excitement than we can afford." I called in my two oldest teenaged sons. I briefed them on the possibility of an evacuation and how to comport themselves aboard ship and to remember who they were if this happened. I could just think of five hundred teenagers aboard this big ship causing all sorts of problems. I wanted my boys to remember who they were. I didn't even talk to my wife about this. She's very competent and can handle anything. I didn't tell her about the prospect, though.

About the twentieth of August, 1962, the U.S.N.S. UPSHUR, the big transport which we had come down to Cuba on, came in for a few hours visit, to pick up some people and drop off some people and then go on down to Panama and to Trinidad and make its round trip around the Caribbean. Just before it was supposed to sail, three hours later, the admiral called me in. The captain of the ship was sitting in his office and he said, "Jerry, I've just received a top secret message from the Commander of military sea transport system in Washington, to hold the ship in Guantanamo. He's told skipper to fake a boiler casualty to cover this. I want you to be prepared to send your boiler people--technicians--down to the ship to assist in the boiler repairs, which the captain will provide the need for." The captain is sitting there nodding his head. He said, "I don't know what all this means, but we



can all guess what it might mean." I immediately called in my evacuation planning team.

Donald R. Lennon:

So you still didn't know what was going on, on the island?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We didn't know what was going on on the island at this point. We just knew something was going on. I called in my evacuation planning team. I said, "Review all of our plans. Make sure all of your two-section name cards are all ready and all your supplies and your teams are designated. Get ready."

Well, I had done this in the past, for drill purposes and they didn't know whether this was for a drill or a whim of mine. I didn't know either. Now this was about Thursday of that very exciting week. The UPSHUR was stuck there, at very great inconvenience to the ship and to the other passengers who were on their way to the rest of the Caribbean. On Friday, all of a sudden, almost out of a clear blue sky, heavy marine transport planes started flying in from Cherry Point.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was there any prior notification?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Bare prior notification, mainly in the form of a request for landing approval, and Marines by the thousands started pouring off these planes. Fortunately, we had long planned, and had already going, a base defense exercise; our normal six weeks' base defense exercise had just started. We phased them into the plans, which, by the way, was the best possible cover story.

Donald R. Lennon:

You pretended you knew they were coming all along.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It was as if we had worked at long range, into the plan. Meanwhile, I'm back in my tin hat again and my battalion of naval infantry and also ducking in and out of operations up there and making sure the ships were getting fueled and all that stuff and very busy, but here are all these Marines pouring in. I spent all day Saturday working on the base defense exercise and Saturday night, too, and about eight o'clock Sunday evening, the admiral called me up to his office and there were the chief of staff and a couple of other senior officers. He said, "Jerry, we've just received a message from the Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet that tomorrow we will evacuate our families.” He said, “It also says that to cover the



security of other operations, we must delay the announcement of the evacuation as long as we can, take all possible precautions to prevent the Cubans from knowing what we're doing. We must get every dependent at sea, off the base, at sea, before 4:30 tomorrow afternoon."

Donald R. Lennon:

Was there any press corps stationed at Guantanamo?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

No, fortunately, no. We had a base newspaper, but it was entirely Navy run.

Donald R. Lennon:

There was no civilian press there at all?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

He said, "Now, we can't use the base radio or television. We can't use sound trucks. We can't announce it at movies. How are we going to do this?" Looking straight at me when he was saying this, you know. Well, we kicked it around for a half an hour and we came up with a quickly revised evacuation plan.

We decided that we would send the children off to school the next day, eight o'clock as normal, making it look like a normal Monday morning on the base. We decided that we would make the announcement as the children were coming home from lunch about eleven o'clock. I said, "Well, we can't do this by word of mouth, because there will be as many different stories as there are people," I said, "I'll go down and draft a one page hand-out, and we'll have teams of officers and chiefs fan out through the housing areas as the children are coming back to school and announce the immediate evacuation of the dependents."

The admiral said, "Well, that sounds fine." There were some other things we had to do. We had to tell the base communication officer to seal all the ham-sets on the base. We had half a dozen ham operators, you know. We would tell the senior telephone operator on the base to call his opposite number over in Cuba and say, “The base telephone system is going down for repairs for several hours, we'll be off the line,” and a few other actions of that nature.

Donald R. Lennon:

So, you all did have telephone communication with Cuba?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yes, we did. This was a great help, of course, to our twenty-five hundred Cubans going in and out of the base. He said, "Also, at dawn, we will seal off the Northeast gate. All Cubans who are outside, will stay outside, and all Cubans who are inside, will stay



inside, to prevent the bearing of tales for several hours."

I went down to my office and drafted the one-page handout, a copy of which I still have immortalized in an ashtray, in my ceramic ashtray in my home; and at breakfast time, I went home to have breakfast with my family. Betty said, "Where have you been all night?"

I said, "Well, I've been working on the base defense exercise. We've extended it for twenty-four hours to try some new things, because we've got some new Marines to phase into it."

My son said, "Dad, who are all these Marines going up and down Sherman Avenue in tanks I've never seen before?"

I said, "Well, we're trying some new ideas out on the base exercise." My wife accepted the story; which indicates what a good cover story it really was.

Then she said, "I'm going to go horseback riding this morning."

I said, "No, Betty, there's some things you've been putting off around the house that need to be done today and this morning." Then I had to think of some.

Then she said, "Alright, I'll get them done this morning, but I'm going horseback riding this afternoon."

And I said, "That's fine." So at eleven o'clock when the handouts came, she was at home and not out on the trail. But other ladies were out on the trail. People evacuated in tennis clothes and in horseback riding outfits and whatever they had on, because when they got the piece of paper that said “The buses are starting their runs now”--this was literally a half hour's notice“get your children, your one suitcase per person. Wait quietly in a tree in the front of your yard. The buses are starting their runs now.” That's the amount of notice the families got. We had to conduct the evacuation. Fortunately, the big transport UPSHUR, it took seventeen hundred out. We had a small LST import. It didn't have much capacity, but it took a hundred ladies out. We had a small C-plane tender. It took three or four hundred out.

Two weeks before, a large Navy cargo ship had come down, commanded by a Naval



Academy classmate of mine, Captain George Hagerman, who I'd gone to prep school with and who was a classmate. George came up to call on me in my office, as all newly-arrived ship skippers did. An hour later I went back and returned the call on board his ship. I said, "George, while I'm here, I'll take the time to brief you on your responsibilities if there should be an evacuation while you're here." We did this to all the ships on what their mission would be. At any time, we had to be prepared to evacuate all the families on whatever ships we happened to have in port at that moment. So, I said, "George, we have you tentatively scheduled to take out four hundred."

George said, "Jerry, I've only got three hundred in my crew. There's no way I can take out four hundred."

I said, "George, let's have another cup of coffee." We kicked it around for a while and finally agreed he would take out three hundred, one for every member of his crew. In the actual evacuation which took place at the end of his stay there, he took out two hundred and ninety-six. That's how close we followed that particular part of the plan. That ship did a marvelous job, with no facilities at all, in taking care of those three hundred people--a marvelous job. Things were complete chaos on the UPSHUR with seventeen hundred to take on. My wife and four sons went out on the UPSHUR. They have their own story to tell about that. We got them all off by 4:30 that afternoon.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now what was their destination?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Norfolk.

Donald R. Lennon:

Norfolk. So, they didn't try to drop them in Miami or anywhere closer?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They did not. They took them straight to Norfolk where there were large Navy facilities to handle them and Norfolk had four days to prepare and Norfolk did a marvelous job.

Donald R. Lennon:

How long did it take to go from Guantanamo to Norfolk?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

The four days.

Donald R. Lennon:

It took four days?



George C. Ball, Jr.:

Four days at sea.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was there sufficient living accommodations?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It was crowded. The mess lines were continuous to get all those extra people fed.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did they have ample food on board?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They had ample food. It was a short, four-day trip. They turned the teenage boys into mess cooks to help handle that. They turned the teenage girls into babysitters to help with the children in the families. This kept the boys and the girls somewhat separated, much to the disappointment of my two teenage sons. I had two other sons, too.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, who was put in charge within the ships to oversee the logistics of it?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

This was a transport. It had a Navy section of people, a lieutenant commander and a couple of--I use the word WAVS--lieutenants and a staff of twenty or thirty people to handle the normal couple of hundred passengers they took. Those people took care of the seventeen hundred, got them assigned to bunks. My wife and I had come down to Guantanamo in the best cabins aboard that ship. We were the senior passengers when we came down. My wife went out in a lower bunk in a tier of four bunks with the Marine colonel's wife in the bunk right above her.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, were there enough bunks on that for seventeen hundred?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It's a big transport. It had troop facilities to carry that many. They had to rig them, though. They had four hours to rig them before the people hit them and they got them rigged and did the job. Not very happily; I mean, my wife wasn't too happy being in a lower troop hole. She only saw her four sons in passing, maybe in the mess line, you know, for the four days. We had two little kids, ages eight and ten. My wife and one of the civil servants from the base was in charge of a sort of a cub scout pack with them in it. She saw him a couple times in the mess line, "How are my sons doing?"

"Oh, they're doing great. We've gotten them into the shower a couple of times. No problems." So she got reassured that her children were fine.

Donald R. Lennon:

She didn't hold it against you for not telling her in advance though, huh?



George C. Ball, Jr.:

I'm not sure I've heard the end of that yet, but she's proud of it because when she got up in Norfolk and the other wives said, "When did you find out about it?"

She said, "Not until after you did. He didn't tell me a thing." The only thing I was able to do was that morning I went to the Navy exchange and I cashed a two hundred dollar check for her and as I saw her in the line going aboard the ship, I gave her this envelope with two hundred dollars in it. We had prepared all of our families for this in our plan. Each wife had a card signed by her husband, authorizing her to draw money against his pay account. We had a pretty good plan. It all worked out real well. We at Guantanamo thought we were going to be in a shooting war the next morning.

Donald R. Lennon:

But you did get all the dependents off and there weren't any still out riding the horses?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

That evening, about seven o'clock, the president came on the line and gave the nation the talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first we'd all heard about it. It was only then, I was listening in my office, already blacked out, in my black-out office, to the president. Now we knew why we had done it. The wives heard it aboard the ship and found out why they had just left. A very exciting period.

Donald R. Lennon:

The defense between Guantanamo and Cuba. The terrain and all is such that they can see back and forth across there, so they could see all the movement and everything.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

They had the surrounding high ground, with artillery positions in those places. I believe they had the places, but they didn't have the artillery in it. It would have been intolerable to us, to have had the guns--

Donald R. Lennon:

So they were able to see the evacuation.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

But they could see all this taking place. Of course, within hours, they knew exactly what was going on, but they did not attempt to interfere with it in any way and maybe if they had, it would all, it would have been over then because the whole Atlantic Fleet would suddenly have descended on them if Castro had tried to interfere or attack the base. We were somewhat disappointed. Matter of fact, our five hundred Cubans on the base came



saying, "Aren't you going to go to war over this? You're not going to let him get away are you? Castro? This is the time. Go get him." It was solved by Kruschev and Kennedy, as you remember the details of that.

I thought the families were gone for good. At Thanksgiving, the Secretary of the Navy came down and I took him to lunch with the admiral in my Bay Hill Galley, the enlisted galley. We were a prize-winning galley. We won the naval award two years out of four and we were the runners-up for it in the third year as the best shore-based galley in the whole U.S. Navy. The admiral liked to show it off, so the admiral and I took the Secretary of the Navy to lunch, Thanksgiving dinner, in the Bay Hill Galley, with the turkey and all the trimmings. While at lunch, I heard the secretary say, "We're trying to get your families back to you as soon as possible." This was a great surprise to me. He said, "The crisis isn't solved yet, but we want to get your families back."

I didn't have an opportunity to question him about that, but as soon as he left, the next day, I sent a message off to the Bureau of Navy Personnel and said, "If you're going to send the families back, would you give me ten days advance notice so I can start rounding up my forty school teachers?" They were scattered all over the United States and some of them as far as Hawaii.

Donald R. Lennon:

Had they evacuated with the families? All civilians had been evacuated?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

All the civilians. The only women left on the base were Navy nurses and the Red Cross representative and thank God she ignored my directive to leave and stayed. We needed her badly. She was the only woman that stayed except for the Navy military women. I didn't get any response to the message, but about ten days later we suddenly received the word the families were allowed to return and those who were closest aboard the airfields could go right to the airfields and make arrangements to leave. My wife, was fortunately, located at Virginia Beach and was able to get back at about the eleventh of December, fly back in with the four boys. She got in at two o'clock in the morning and I went over in my captain's barge to meet her at the airfield on the other side of the bay and



brought her back to my pier in my own back yard at two o'clock in the morning.

Her marvelous Cuban maid was waiting on the pier. I hadn't been able to inform the maid, but she'd gotten the word that Seora was coming back. She'd been working at the bowling alley. I didn't need her any longer so I had found her a job at the bowling alley and in effect let her go as a maid. She was getting four times at the bowling alley what I was paying her as a maid. She told the officer who ran the bowling alley, "Seora Ball comes back. I go back there." And she was waiting on the pier. She and my wife had a more passionate reunion than I'd been able to achieve up to that point.

Most of the rest of the families came back on the UPSHUR. They were not close to an airport, an airfield, like Betty was. They came back on the twenty-second of November on the UPSHUR. We had a New York harbor-type reception for them, with the tugs squirting colored water, the band on the pier, Santa Claus on the pier, helicopters with big, "Welcome Home" banners flying all around the ship.

Donald R. Lennon:

November 22 was kind of early for them to be going back, wasn't it?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Well, my wife got back on the eleventh. It took that long for the ship. The ship was making its normal return run and they got back on the twenty-second. The crisis was declared over in about the first of December, very close to the first of December.

Donald R. Lennon:

I was getting ready to say, it was December before we left Opa-locka.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yeah. The people aboard the ship, the wives aboard the ship, had torn up bed sheets and so forth and had big banners over the side of the ship announcing their return, marvelous banners. It was a very festive occasion.

When the crisis had started, the Navy exchange officer came up and said, "Captain, I normally have an order in for eleven hundred Christmas trees. I've canceled the order for eleven hundred and put in an order for one hundred for organizational type Christmas party trees, you know. Then, when the families were ordered back he came and he said, "Captain I just sent a change on the Christmas tree business. I ordered full eleven hundred again." They got back the day after the families. So, if our Christmas was not white that year, it



was at least green.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, what happened on base during the crisis, after the families had left? Was it just routine?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Our five thousand Marines that had been flown in, plus our own five hundred that we had there all the time, manned defense lines, the fox holes, out near the base perimeter.

Donald R. Lennon:

You stayed on full alert the whole time, though?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

We stayed on full alert. We got wired in with artillery and fox holes and a real live Marine brigadier general to command this whole business with our own colonel as his chief of staff. He said they were nervous for the first forty-eight hours until they got wired in. Then, he said, "We can now handle anything." Fortunately, we didn't have to use them.

The morning that the word came from Washington that the crisis was over and that the families could come back and therefore the Marines could leave, the Marine briefing officer at the morning operational briefing always gave us the password and its reply for the day, in his briefing. He said, "The password for today is 'good' and the reply is 'news'" and he said,” I don't write these things up myself. That's what I've been told,” and we were all cheering. How are we doing on time?

Donald R. Lennon:

We're fine. We still have fifteen minutes.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Alright, the crisis was over and things returned to normal on the base and we finished out our tour. My family had settled in Virginia Beach and Betty had gotten all the kids in school within about a week. At the end of my tour, I was due to go back to sea and wanted to command a large, deep-draft amphibious ship, which I thought I was overdue for, and my orders came in to do exactly that. I flew the family back up to the Norfolk area and installed them in a big beach house at Virginia Beach, my wife and my four sons. The kids were able to go to the same schools they had gone to during the evacuation and they were already famous because they were the evacuees, you know, and they were already known.

Then I flew back to Guantanamo and my ship had just arrived from a Navy yard overhaul. It arrived in Guantanamo the same day I did and I took command of the ship the



following day. Then I went up to call on the commanding officer of the Naval Station, the one who'd just relieved me several weeks before and he said, "Jerry, I found a piece of paper in my files that said I'm supposed to ask the skipper of the first amphibious ship to see if he can figure out how to bring a hundred horses back from Jamaica," to beef up our hundred and ten horses that we had for recreational purposes on the base. My wife had owned a couple of them.

I was very familiar with this piece of paper because I had put the piece of paper in the files about two months before, when I sent the director of the family corral, Connie Dempsey, the wife of our golf pro, over to Jamaica to see if she could find some surplus horses for us and she had found some polo ponies. She said, "They're ideal for our purposes and I've tentatively contracted for ten of them, if you can figure out some way to get them back to Guantanamo.”

"Fine, well, ask the skipper of the first amphibious ship that's going to take a liberty weekend over to Montego Bay if he'll do it for us.” It turns out, when I took the ship, that was our first liberty port and we carried back the hundred horses, the ten horses for Guantanamo, and Connie Dempsey was my date in Montego Bay for an evening of dinner and dancing that night.

Donald R. Lennon:

How do you transport livestock?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Remember, the Spaniards used to do this way back four hundred years ago, and we have the horse latitude's name for the area in which they had to throw the horses overboard because they were running out of wind and running out of water.

Donald R. Lennon:

What did you do? Did you use some kind of harness?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

That's a story in itself. I went back to the ship and I told my officers what we were going to do the next weekend, including the horse lift, and I asked for their ideas. The first lieutenant of the ship, a regular naval lieutenant, said, "No trouble Captain. We'll rig up belly slings, and hoist the horse aboard and put him in number one hold just like they were marine jeeps."



The bright, young college boy reserve, Lieutenant J.G., He said, "Captain, why do we have to bring them on board at all? We've got four landing crafts slung out over the sides in davits as life boats. Why don't we send those boats over to the beach, drop their ramps, march the ten horses in the four boats, bring them back and hang them outboard over the side of the ship for the overnight trip back to Guantanamo." He said, "If the Naval Station could send us down some tarpaulins and loan us some old mattresses, we could line the boats with them and it wouldn't even mess the boats up too much."

Donald R. Lennon:

Wouldn't the horse panic?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

This was such a good idea, it's a wonder anybody ever thought about it. I checked it out with Connie. She said that it would work fine and that's exactly what we did. We lined the boats with the mattresses. We put the tarpaulins on the deck, and we put three horses in two of the boats and two horses in two others.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you sedate the horses or anything?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Connie gave the horses a large tranquilizer pill. She and a team of volunteer horse sitters stayed up with them all night to calm them and pat them and reassure them and so forth, and they rode very comfortably.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did they have them tied down or anything?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

No, they were just loose in the boat, like it was a corral, a small corral. It was just about the right size for the ten horses. They traveled very well. The boat crews that cleaned up the boats the next day said the tranquilizer pill was composed primarily of Exlax.

We put the boats in the water and landed the boats in Guantanamo the next morning. Connie named the best one Monrovia after my ship. Later Connie and Jim retired and went up to Virginia and she runs a large and elegant riding stable up there in the fox hunting country near Charlottesville. Betty and I went up to see her one time and met Monrovia and not only met Monrovia, but met Betty's former horse, who was one that Connie had also brought up. She brought up three or four horses with her when she came, and so Betty got to see her own horse again and to ride Monrovia.



Donald R. Lennon:

So they're still living?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yeah. Well this was after we retired, but the horses were about twenty years old by that time, perhaps. This was in the early 1070s. This was a fascinating tour of duty. My wife just loved every minute of it.

That was one of the exciting things that happened during my time on MONROVIA. That was the first thing that happened within the first week that I had it, you know. Later on, we did the Panama rescue operation which is described in that article. We had two deployments to the Mediterranean and two to the Caribbean, during the time I had her for fourteen months. In that fourteen months, we put the Assault Board Award on the ship twice as a competitive exercise. We put the engineering “E” on the ship twice. Again, an annual competitive award. We put an “E” on every deck gun. We got the green communication “C,” and, finally, we got the Operation Award for a clean sweep of all the awards a ship can get. On top of that, we were then nominated and were selected as the “E” ship of the Atlantic Fleet for that year; the best of the twelve amphibious APAs in the Atlantic Fleet that year. I have a cast reproduction of that E hanging on the center of my bar. We had a great ship, a great crew.

At the end of that time, coming back from our last deployment to the Mediterranean, I had my orders in hand to go to the Naval War College to be on the faculty there, which seemed to me a most unlikely assignment considering my standing in the upper eighty percent of my Naval Academy Class. I went to the faculty of the War College as the plans officer, in which my first job was to plan the curriculum for the following year. This wasn't too big a job, because I took the curriculum of the previous year and with no guidance to change it, I adapted the dates and the programs and made some small adjustments and some small changes and then defended it for the curriculum board and sold it. Then I fleeted up to be the deputy director of the School of Naval Warfare after those three months, for another five or six months, to be the deputy director. Then the director left and his relief made admiral before he got there and therefore couldn't take that assignment. So, I fleeted



up then to become the director of the School of Naval Warfare at the Naval War College for an academic year before another captain finally came and relieved me and again, my counterparts in both the Army and Air Force were major generals. A most interesting assignment and, I thought, an unlikely one for me, but, again, a marvelous year.

The duty up in Newport and New London is probably the reason we retired in Florida. That's awfully cold weather up there.

Donald R. Lennon:

This year in particular. A horrible year.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yeah. Alright, while I was up there, now I wanted a command of a submarine squadron, which is my love, in the Navy, is the submarines. I wanted the one in Key West. I knew the commander of Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet and he came up; ComSubLant and ComDesLant, submarines' commanders and commander of destroyers--were playing each other in the Atlantic Fleet Championship basketball game. I knew that Admiral Lowrance, Vice-Admiral Lowrance would come up with the team. I said, "Betty, I think we better to go to that ball game tonight. I've heard that the Selection Board has met down in Washington on who's going to get the squadrons for the following year and I've heard a rumor that I might be on the list, but I'm not sure. Let's go to the ball game tonight and sit in the front row." While we were watching the game, I could see Admiral Lowrance with his team on the other side; fortunately, ComSubLant won by two points in a very exciting game and won the Atlantic Fleet Championship.

During half-time, Admiral Lowrance got up and he walked across the basketball court toward us, but he didn't walk to me. He walked to my wife. I'd served with him before on ComSubLant staff many years before. He walked to Betty and he said, "Betty, are you glad to be going back to Key West?" That was my confirmation that I was going to get the squadron in Key West, which I did one full year after that event. But I had a full year to anticipate it and enjoy the anticipation before I got the squadron command.

Donald R. Lennon:

The appointment was a whole year in advance?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Yeah. I was amazed to get that long. I didn't get the orders for many, many, more



months, but they were cast in concrete and I finally did get them.

Donald R. Lennon:

So you retired from . . .

George C. Ball, Jr.:

No. That was my next assignment, commander of the submarine squadron in Key West; a marvelous seventeen-month assignment, with good people, good boats, good staff, and it couldn't have been better. One of the two or three choice assignments of all my Navy career.

From there, we had one more tour of duty. I had three years left to do in the Navy and Betty and I talked a long time and I said, "I wonder if that job in Panama is open as deputy chief of staff to the four star general who commands the U.S. Southern Command. The command's name had been changed from Caribbean Command, where it was under General Ridgeway, to U.S. Southern Command, and now it had a four-star general instead of a three-star general, but there was still a billet for a Navy captain to be the deputy chief of staff--the chief of staff being a major general Air Force.

So, I called the bureau and they said, "We're working on trying to place you for your next tour of duty, which might be your last one, you know."

I said, "Is that job in Panama open?"

"Just a minute." Papers are shuffling in the background. "A classmate of yours is in that job right now, Captain Court (?) Norton. Yes, we haven't picked somebody for the job yet. If you want it, it's yours." And I got it.

Donald R. Lennon:

So you finished out your career there.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

So, we had another marvelous tour in Panama. We loved the duty in Panama. We have never forgiven Jimmy Carter for giving the Canal Zone away, and we had three lovely years down there and Betty got to buy a horse again and ride everyday.

We arrived in Panama for my final tour of duty, as deputy chief of staff to the four-star Army general, in August of 1968. There'd been an election in Panama a couple of months before and the president-elect had not been inaugurated yet; was a person that the Guardia Nacional, the army-cum-police force of the Panama government, did not like. His



name was Arnulfo Arias. Arnulfo had been elected president twice before, and I had been there shortly after both of those elections, once back in 1942 and again in '48, when he had been elected. In neither case would the Guardia let him serve as president. They would not even let him be inaugurated. They just sort of put up their hands and said, "No, we will not accept him as president," and somebody else had to serve the tour of duty. This time in October of '68, Arnulfo was actually inaugurated. Arnulfo Arias was actually inaugurated as President of the Republic of Panama. Betty and I were invited to the inaugural ball and met the president and all of his cabinet. I had met him before. Eleven days thereafter, things were quiet in Panama, and the governor who'd--we'd all been sort of on tip-toes and holding our breath, because the Guardia was making very uncomfortable noises about Arnulfo. Finally, the governor said, "I need to go to Washington on business. I don't care what happens."

The general said, "I've got to make this inspection trip to South America."

And the Ambassador said, "I've got to go to Washington, too."

Donald R. Lennon:

They were trying to get out of the country?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

All three of them left town. That night, the Guardia struck, and tried to capture Arnulfo. He was having dinner in the Canal Zone with friends in the Canal Zone and heard about the coup and the raid on the president's mansion and escaped and asked for asylum in the Canal Zone. We had him set up in a set of family quarters on the hill of Quarry Heights, about four hundred yards from where Betty and I lived, and I spent the night in the governor's office and headquarters as the liaison between the military command--we were all at battle stations by this time--between the governor of the Canal Zone's office, the lieutenant governor presiding, since his boss was in Washington, and our Chief of Staff presiding at Quarry Heights because our general was in South America. We were sending messages to him, of course. The Ambassador's first secretary of his embassy over there was holding forth in Panama, as the Ambassador was in Washington, too.

Donald R. Lennon:

Had they conveniently left Panama to be out of the way or was it just coincidental?



George C. Ball, Jr.:

No. They had said, "We've been putting off these trips because of the tense situation. We can't put them off any longer.” It was just an accident that they all had to leave on other business at that time. I don't believe the Guardia struck because they realized these people were out of town. I doubt if they knew they were out of town, unless they had an awfully good intelligence service. It just happened that way.

I spent the night in the governor's office watching the lieutenant governor and his number one assistant, who had been there for forty years and knew all the ins and outs of the Canal Zone in Panama, handle the crisis. The assistant would go over and talk to the ex-President, the ousted President, and find out what he wanted. He wanted to come back to office, of course, but if he was caught in the Republic of Panama, he'd be killed by the Guardia. So, his next option was to be evacuated to the United States.

Donald R. Lennon:

What was the Guardia's opposition to him based on?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It was political in nature. They didn't think that he had the right ideals to be president, and didn't respect the Guardia Nacional, and they had always hated him; for twenty or thirty years they'd hated him and his family. So, his final option was to go back to be evacuated to the United States and receive asylum there, which he finally did after ten very tense days with a lot of bargaining going on between all parties involved and I got in on the fringes of that. I would attend these meetings as a representative of the military command, with the Governor and with the Ambassador.

By the way, I met with them for three years on a weekly basis to prevent things like the 1964 riots. We had a Panama review committee and I was my general's “sword bearer and spear carrier” on that assignment. I went to all the meetings with him and kept the files and I had large background experience in Panama, with three tours of duty down there and a previous tour of duty at that headquarters. I found that all the problems were the same twenty years later. A most interesting tour.

We finished the three-year tour down there. It quieted down after that and General Torrijos took over and became the, in effect, dictator, of the Republic of Panama, until he



was killed in a helicopter crash and Noriega replaced him. I knew General Torrijos and I have met Noriega. I had a very exciting and very varied naval career. Things a naval officer doesn't usually get to do on many occasions. I worked for five Army generals and two Air Force generals in my time. I have more fitness reports in my record signed by Army and Air Force generals than I do by Navy admirals, which may be why I didn't make admiral in the Navy.

Donald R. Lennon:

Plus, you had what was it, three tours in Panama?

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Seven-and-a-half years in Panama, besides taking ships in there on many occasions. I took MONROVIA in there with a battalion of Marines on board in January of 1964, a quiet day in Panama, but that evening the terrible riots broke out over the flag raising incident at Balboa High School, where my wife had graduated, and her sister, many years before, and where I later had two sons enrolled. My wife later accused me of starting the riots, because I was there at the time. The riots broke out on the Atlantic side later that night, with our crew ashore on liberty, and our shore patrol and the Canal Zone police, with arms locked, shepherded them back to the ship, fighting off a mob of thousands.

Donald R. Lennon:

So the riot was not expected.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

It was not expected. The flag raising incident was fanned by the University of Panama and the Panamanian government into a terrible problem, a terrible crisis. We broke off diplomatic relations with Panama that night and the final result was that we lost the Canal Zone. Treaty negotiations were started and Jimmy Carter ran on a platform ticket to give the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians and did so.

Donald R. Lennon:

Don't you think that had he not done so, the unrest would have continued to . . .

George C. Ball, Jr.:

The Noriega business is a direct descendent of us giving the Canal back.

Donald R. Lennon:

But do you think we would have been able to have controlled it without . . .

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Oh yes, as we did control it. We went down there and took charge and caught Noriega. We had no trouble militarily handling the problem when we had our government in power there.



Donald R. Lennon:

I was thinking in terms of the opposition that would continue to grow and grow.

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Oh there were always . . . geez, the Panamanians used to talk to me--from my gardener, my maid, to senior members of the Panamanian government. They said, "We have to do this anti-American stuff for our own political purposes. Don't ever give us the Canal back. We have to act like we want it all the time for political purposes. Don't ever give it back to us," and they're going to have terrible problems. The Panama railroad is now falling apart. It's unsafe to ride. The commission that's running the Canal now is still controlled by the United States, even though, technically, a Panamanian heads it. The minute they get full control in the year 2000, there'll be no more maintenance on the Panama Canal. They'll want all the money to flow into their pockets. Right now, it's still being well-maintained and believe me, we need the Canal. More ships go through it now than did fifty years ago. The only ships that can't go through the Canal are those that are designed not to go through it; our big aircraft carriers and the big tankers and some of the big container ships, are designed not to go through the Panama Canal.

That about brings me up to retirement.

Donald R. Lennon:

And after you retired, you retired to Florida and what kind of civilian pursuit did you . . .

George C. Ball, Jr.:

Very little. I found out that I was a natural-born loafer and I really retired, but I have done things like being on the Board of the Naval Academy Alumni Association and being its president for a year or two, being the program chairman of the Central Florida Aquarium Society, a lot of gardening pursuits. I live in a nice house on a lake with my own boat dock in my backyard and a screened-in swimming pool, and I don't have time for anything else. I wonder how I had time to go to work all those years.

[End of Interview]

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