Posts Tagged ‘USS Maine’


The Embassy of Cuba

On December 17th of last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. Then on April 11th of this year, Presidents Obama and President Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. And on July 1st, President Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So in recognition of this renewed relationship, often referred to as “The Cuban Thaw”, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to ride to the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States – the newly reopened Cuban Embassy.

The Republic of Cuba actually had a diplomatic outpost in D.C. even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted a war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. After some rebel successes in this war for Cuba’s independence, U.S. President William McKinley in 1897 offered to buy Cuba for $300 million. It was the rejection of that offer, and an explosion in Havana harbor that sank the American battleship USS Maine, that led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as “the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence”. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and setting the stage for the birth of the independent Republic of Cuba.

Two decades later, in 1917, Cuba constructed an embassy in the United States, located just two miles north of The White House at 2630 16th Street (MAP) in the northwest D.C.’s Meridian Hill neighborhood. At that time Meridian Hill was home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. The Cuban Embassy served in that capacity for the next 43 years, until newly-elected President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and that country’s subsequent decision to closely ally itself with the Soviet Union.

Later, beginning in the 1970s, the embassy building housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. The Cuban Interests Section and its counterpart, the United States Interests Section in Havana, were sections of the respective embassies of Switzerland, which acted as protecting power. However, they operated as embassies independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.

The United States will be opening an embassy in Havana on Friday at a similar ceremony to be presided over by Secretary of State John Kerry.  I won’t be riding my bike there to see it, though, at least any time soon.

A number of differences and disputes between our two countries remain. These include Cuba’s request that the U.S. return its Naval base in Guantanamo Bay and lift the economic embargo, which Congress has shown little inclination to do anytime soon, as well as the U.S.’s concerns in regard to human rights abuses by the island nation. Whether the reopening of the embassies lead to resolution of these matters remains to be seen, but perhaps it may be a first step in that direction.

The Lone Sailor

The Lone Sailor

The Lone Sailor is a seven-foot tall bronze sculpture by American artist and World War II veteran Stanley Bleifeld. It is located on the granite Memorial Plaza which forms the amphitheater of the United States Navy Memorial, located in downtown D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), across the street from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building, and a block east of the FBI Headquarters Building. On this bike ride I stopped by to see and admire the statue, and to learn a little more about it.

The Lone Sailor is intended to be a composite of the Navy bluejacket, past, present and future, and represents all people who ever served are serving now or who are yet to serve in the U.S. Navy. The process of conceptualization, modeling, sculpting, and casting went through five initial images based on four different models, and took over a year of work before culminating in the final version as it now stands at the Memorial. After giving up on honor guard models, Bleifeld asked New London Submarine Base for someone more typical. They sent Petty Officer 1st class Dan Maloney. Bleifeld felt he had the appearance he had been looking for, and used him as the sculpture’s model. However, the name of the lone sailor as read on the statue’s seabag is a fictitious one, William Thompson.

As part of the casting process, the bronze for The Lone Sailor was mixed with artifacts from eight U. S. Navy ships, provided by the Naval Historical Center. The ships span the Navy’s history, yielding small pieces of copper sheeting, spikes, hammock hooks and other fragments from the post-revolutionary frigates Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) and Constellation; the steamer Hartford, flagship of Admiral David G. Farragut in the Civil War era; the battleship USS Maine; the iron-hulled steamer/sailing ship USS Ranger; the World War II-era cruiser USS Biloxi and aircraft carrier USS Hancock, and the nuclear-powered submarine USS Seawolf. One last addition was a personal decoration from today’s Navy, one given to sailors in war and peace, the National Defense Service Medal. These bits of metal are now part of The Lone Sailor.

The unveiling of the statue took place at the formal dedication of the Memorial on October 13, 1987, the 212th birthday of the Navy. Since that time, the immense popularity of the Lone Sailor led to the Navy Memorial’s Statue Outreach Program which began in 1997 with the placement of replicas of the Lone Sailor statue at other locations. Today there are a dozen replicas of the statue placed throughout the U.S. They are located in: Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Bremerton, Washington; Burlington, Vermont; Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Great Lakes, Illinois; Jacksonville, Florida; Long Beach, California; Norfolk, Virginia; San Francisco, California; Waterloo, Iowa, and; West Haven, Connecticut. So, if you can’t come to see the original in D.C. any time soon, you can visit one of the other Lone Sailors at one of these other locations.