“All Grenadians come to arms, we are being invaded by hostile forces,” blared the radio in my tiny house in Barbados. I was jarred awake, I looked around, it was early morning, the sun was not up yet.
I listened carefully. I always left the radio on overnight in my tiny house where I lived during my three years serving in the Peace Corps. The Barbados radio station signed off about 11 PM each night. I awakened when the station came back on the air each morning. This was how I started each day. Listening to the radio, I would then open my double doors and sit out on a metal chair on my porch. I would look out on the row of cabbage palms across the lawn of the great house of my landlord. My tiny house was one of four rental units on his property in Belleville, St. Michael, near Bridgetown, the capital.
As I looked at the tall stately cabbage palms watching the neighborhood come alive, I often saw a small flock of parrots up on the tops of the trees. If I sat very still, sometimes a small green lizard would crawl across my foot. I would listen to the radio, catch up on the news, hear some music, perhaps drink some bay leaf tea and ease into my day.
But today I listened carefully as the Barbados radio station piped in a live feed from Grenada’s national radio station urging all citizens to come out and defend the island from unknown hostile forces. I was listening to history being made, a more than mild change of pace for a Peace Corps volunteer on a quiet, peaceful, beautiful Caribbean island. What’s going on, I pondered.
Grenada is about 150 miles from Barbados. By air on a BWIA island hopping airplane it was about 23 minutes and most of this time was taxiing. In October of 1983, things were coming apart. A revolutionary (communist leaning) government had taken over Grenada in a coup in 1979. During October of 1983, Maurice Bishop, the leader of the revolution government was placed under house arrest and later murdered. Many Barbadians had close friends or family in Grenada, so these events were much discussed in our local news. A military wing of the revolutionary government had arrested Bishop, he escaped, but then he and other cabinet members were killed while they were marching in protest. Some in Barbados conjectured that Bishop had been allowed to escape so the military faction could kill him and get him out-of-the-way.
Compounding what the Barbadians viewed as the “chaos” going on in Grenada was the presence of Cuban military and workers building a long airport runway, that could accommodate the largest Cuban military planes. Surrounding Grenada, the other Eastern Caribbean islands were all democracies. So the increasing influence of Cuba in Grenada, combined with the military takeover of the government was a threat to peace and stability of the other islands.
The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States along with the nations of Barbados and Jamaica appealed to the U.S. Government for assistance. Secretly the Governor General of Grenada, the titular head of Grenada which was still part of the British Commonwealth, had also appealed to the U.S. for assistance. The U.S. was also concerned about the safety of a large contingent of American medical students who were studying in Grenada.
At 5 am on October 25, 1983 a combined force from the US, Jamaica and the Regional Security System based in Barbados commenced the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of hostile forces that awakened me via the radio that morning.
The invasion lasted just two or three days, my Barbadian friends and I learned that many of the aircraft being used were flying out of our local Grantley Adams International Airport. We learned that US, Barbados, and other Caribbean troops were involved, the Grenada radio station was captured, the Cuban military advisors were captured, the medical students and the Governor General were evacuated and Grenada was now secure. Our Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps office invited us in for a briefing. We were asked if any of us would volunteer to help deliver humanitarian aid supplies in Grenada. I was working for the Barbados Boy Scouts Association, so I immediately volunteered.
Fortunately, a few hours later, we got the word that it probably was not a good idea to have U.S. Peace Corps volunteers immediately follow U.S. troops into a country we had just invaded. I was sorry to have missed this opportunity to help, but certainly understood the rationale.
So the invasion was over. Barbadians and most Grenadians were very happy that the revolution and the communist experiment was over. There still was a presence of US military planes at the airport for another month or so. I wrote an article about the invasion for my hometown newspaper, a former employer of mine from my days as a newspaper correspondent. Life went on, I spent another year in the Peace Corps.
Thirty three years passed and then a few weeks ago one of my personal history clients, a former Ambassador, talked about how the Invasion of Grenada threatened to disrupt his wife’s work with the State Department. Over lunch I mentioned that I remembered waking up to the invasion.
Bruce Summers, SummooseTales, email@example.com is a Personal Historian, a board member of the global Association of Personal Historians and also serves as their Regions and Chapters Director. He also is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).