Like many people stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Turk was immediately fascinated by the environment of southern Cuba. It reminded him of the arid North American west. Chaparral and cactus eked out a living from rocks and sand, with one big difference, the zone where the near-desert met the Caribbean and bay. In his off duty hours, Turk explored those margins, and around the time Paul arrived at Gitmo, one of Turk’s sergeants reported an unusual discovery…
She had been scuba diving off the southern coast, ran out of air, and had to come inshore and snorkel along the shallows back to Glass Beach. Along the way, she found a porcelain sherd inscribed “U.S.M.C.” Turk was familiar with the general area—he had collected fossils nearby—so he planned to investigate and see whether there might be more. By chance, he ran into me and told me what he was going to do.
I vaguely recall that on a Friday afternoon, Turk invited me to look at sites where he was collecting fossils. Somehow, conversation turned to the artifacts he had found at Glass Beach and he asked if I had any interest in taking a look. I recall being initially curious in the same way that someone stuck in a ten-hour flight layover is drawn to any magazine rack in the terminal; I had nowhere in particular to be that afternoon and Turk was a VMI connection, so I resolved to make the best of it and keep an open mind to learning something new.
Turk was a little surprised that I wanted to go bouldering in the afternoon tropical sun during time off, but he thought it couldn’t hurt to have some company in case he got hurt.
The area is isolated and rough, and bouldering—essentially, practicing mountain-climbing skills a few feet off the ground—is sweaty work. Nor did the site look like a tourist attraction: Turk knew it was a dusty, windless cove that trapped the full heat of the sun, and the boulders we traversed to get there demanded careful climbing techniques that Turk hadn’t practiced since he attended Mountain Warfare School over two decades before.
We parked near an old coastal defense battery from before World War One and descended a long metal staircase that the Navy would refer to as a “ladder.” The staircase ends on a small beach strewn with rounded sea glass, washed by the tide. From a position facing the bay, to our left was a series of large coral boulders abutting the cliff. As Turk led me clambering over the boulders to the dump site, we talked. I do not remember everything we discussed, but I clearly recall talking about how Army Camouflage Uniforms (ACU’s) were completely over-engineered for their purpose with so many Velcro closures and other accoutrements.
After stumbling on a boulder and falling on my side in dirt by the cliff, and coming up with a cargo pocket full of dirt because the Velcro closure had failed to guard against such an encroachment, I had to admit that I was not in a position to defend the designers of my uniform.
It was a moderately challenging route and the late-day sun blazing down upon us. When we finally arrived at the dump site proper, I recall being struck with curiosity regarding what might be present, but we were there to see shards so our attention was focused on them during our initial visit. Turk described his efforts thus far in documenting not only the pieces that he had found thus far but the dates and makers as well. I listened carefully and offered respectful questions where it seemed appropriate. It was readily apparent that the documentation effort was Turk’s passion and I confess that my initial thoughts were only in a vein of recovering a unique souvenir as a memento of my time in Cuba.
When Turk first started finding dated U.S.M.C. sherds, he hoped to discover an intact piece. No such piece emerged from the dirt. One day on the site—and like a lot of ideas, this one arrived without fanfare—Turk thought, “Make one.” That night, he thought, “No. Wait for the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I.”
Turk contacted me in early 2015 and related that he had an idea to create a replica of the mugs since we were approaching the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into WWI. I was immediately captivated by the idea and offered my initial thoughts as to the commercial viability of such an endeavor.
To be sure, the market for such a historical reproduction would be discrete and narrowly focused in our estimation but we were always mindful of the possibility that it might have wider appeal to individuals who might be drawn to the history of the piece or otherwise interested in the surrounding history of World War One.