By Staff Reporter
Those same three men will be on hand on Friday to raise the flag once again during a ceremony to reopen the embassy after 54 years.
“That was a touching moment,” reflected Mike East on the day he helped lower the flag. “To see Old Glory flying the last time in Cuba, you know, that just didn’t seem right.I think about it every night now, seeing that flag go back up. It means a lot.”
John Kerry will oversee the event, and will become the first secretary of state to visit Cuba in 60 years when his plane lands Friday morning.
The state department has drawn backlash from Republicans and Cuban expatriates for choosing not to invite Cuban dissidents to attend.
Mr Kerry says including dissidents was not feasible for the “government-to-government” ceremony, but that a separate event will be held Friday in which dissidents will be invited to take part. The Cuban embassy in Washington opened last month.
For the three former Marines, all of whom are returning to Cuba for the first time, it is sure to be an emotional day.
“It’s a place I always wanted to go back to,” says Mr East. “You think about the good times you had, about the people you met. The friendships.”
Larry Morris took part in the ceremonial folding of the flag after he helped lower it 54 years ago.
“I was just there for four and a half months, but I enjoyed the people and Cuba better than any place I’d ever been,” he said.
“Me and my wife have been married for 44 years, and I’ve talked to her for about 44 years about it.”
The state department said Mr Kerry will not meet with Cuban president Raul Castro, or his brother Fidel, who turned 89 on Thursday and ruled the island nation for nearly 50 years.
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Barack Obama (right) with Raul Castro during their historic meeting in Panama (AP)
President Barack Obama has lauded the resumption of diplomatic ties with Cuba as the start of “a new chapter among the nations of the Americas”. He says he is unlikely to visit Cuba before the end of his presidency.
Jim Tracy, who also helped lower the flag and will be on hand on Friday, said he was “really excited” about the new era in US-Cuba relations.
“I’m going to love seeing that flag go back up.”