Thirty years ago today the Joint Chiefs of Staff met at the Pentagon and gave the go-ahead on a plan to sent troops to free the islands of Grenada in the Caribbean. Two days later, Oct. 25, 1983, U.S. troops landed by sea and air.
It has been called an invasion, which the military has always disputed, calling it an "incursion" or "intervention" instead. Whatever it is called, U.S. Army and Marines went onto the eight islands that compose the tiny country to oust communist leaders.
It was the first offensive action by U.S. military forces since Vietnam, and according to one magazine article, soon after our arrival, "At this point, the plan became a casualty of events."
One problem was that there was a lack of what the Army calls "unity of command." Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force elements were involved, and some could not communicate with others.
One famous occurrence happened when a SEAL team, always innovative and quick thinking, called a headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C., through an AT&T landline to direct an air strike by Air Force AC-130 gunships. That's not really the way an incursion, or any other military operation, is drawn up to work. In this case, it worked, and worked well.
Grenada had become a surrogate state for Cuba in the region, and Soviet advisors were operating from there also. A major pretext for U.S. intervention was a medical school that had many students from the United States who were thought to be in imminent danger. It turned out none were, but our troops went in anyway.
Even though not many things went smoothly for our side, the Grenadian defense force, even with its Soviet and Cuban advisors, was no match militarily. Within but a few days, U.S. forces had accomplished all objectives, Grenada's leaders were in custody, and our troops were treated like conquering heroes.
I'd retired from the fort and my family was living on a tree farm in rural northwest Alabama. You can imagine my surprise one noon watching CNN when Army Capt. Russ Cancilla, an MP officer who had been a general's aide at Fort Leavenworth, was interviewed about the U.S. run POW camp.
He was the first, and so far only, person I've ever known who appeared on a national news program. When he returned to Fort Bragg he sent me some souvenirs from the brief action, which were greatly appreciated. In his last assignment Cancilla was the military aide to President George H.W. Bush, but I never got a souvenir from the White House.
Another fort friend, Maj. Ken Bowra, was also on Grenada with a Special Operations unit, but he was a tad too busy to look for souvenirs. He did bring me an empty Soviet pistol holster, swearing the pistol had not been in it. He retired as a major general and is with the State Department overseas.
Page 2 of 2 - Our not so smooth victory brought about changes for the military. Due to "challenges" in intelligence operations, clear lines of authority, communication, and electronics, Congress established a four-star command, U.S. Special Operations Command, whose commander alternates among all services.
Another by-product of the operation was the introduction of Thanksgiving to the locals, who had never heard of it. On Thanksgiving Day 1983, in the some 100 little towns and villages on Grenada, the locals cooked turkeys and other traditional treats and invited all American troops in the neighborhood to dinner.
Today, Oct. 25 is officially Thanksgiving Day in Grenada, result of a job well done, 30 years ago this week.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.