— -- The three Marines who took down the American flag at the U.S. embassy in 1961 were on hand in Havana once again today, witnessing three much younger Marines raise the flag there for the first time in 54 years, marking the historic reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba.
Retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Jim Tracy is one of those Marines.
“I spent 30 years protecting that flag, and if I can put that flag back where it belongs again ... I’ll feel good,” Tracy told ABC News before heading arriving in Havana for the first time since taking down more than half a century ago.
“For an old guy like me that’s been around the world two or three times, this is the icing on the cake,” Tracy said, describing the moment he would witness the flag going up again.
Mike East, also a retired Gunnery Sergeant, said he never thought he’d get back there in his lifetime.
“It’s going to be a joy in my heart, raising the flag, seeing the flag go back up,” he told ABC News. “I think it’s part of history.”
Retired Lance Corporal Larry Morris, now 74, was the youngest Marine on post at the time. He told the story of how they decided on their own that the flag, which was taken down in a hurry, should be folded in the traditional manner.
“Someone said, ‘we going to fold the flag?’ And somebody said, 'Hell yes!’ So we folded the flag. And smartly, we done it just like it should have been done, and marched up the steps and ... there was about two or three hundred people up the steps and when we folded the flag. They gave us a clap," Morris said.
The three retired Marines handed off a new flag to the Marines who raised it today. All saluted as the flag was raised to a drumroll, followed by the National Anthem.