Stunned and fearful, the residents of St. George's began returning to their hillside streets today to survey the damage left by a spasm of modern warfare unlike anything this little island has ever seen.
Butler House, the seat of Grenada's revolutionary government for the last four years, lay burned to the ground. Fort Rupert, headquarters of the People's Revolutionary Army, hulked there disarmed, gaping holes rocketed through its roof and a dead soldier sprawled on the floor.
The fort's days as a proud guardian of the revolution--stationed high on a rocky mound overlooking the picture-book harbor--seemed to be over for a long time, and its antiaircraft battery sticking into the blue Caribbean sky looked pathetic rather than menacing.
As if to remind me of the scenes that I had witnessed in Grenada over the past two days of the U.S. invasion, an AC130 gunship scribed lazy circles overhead, its ultra-rapid 20mm Gatling guns finally silent. But the unsettling roar of its bullets raining to the ground over the previous two days and a night echoed in the memory of those of us who had heard the mortal storm.
It was only today that accounts of what happened during the invasion began to be reported from Grenada itself. Although a small group of us had managed to reach the island under our own steam as the invasion began Tuesday morning, we were prevented from filing our dispatches, first by the lack of communications on the island, and later by the U.S. force. Details on Page A16.
Over the weekend, our group of seven journalists had anticipated an invasion and begun planning how to get to Grenada. On Monday, we flew to a nearby island and by Tuesday morning were headed toward St. George's in a rented fishing boat.
Ironically, my first impression as we sputtered into St. George's harbor at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday was of very dead silence. We had heard on a radio news broadcast that U.S. Marines already had taken charge. But they were nowhere to be seen. No one was anywhere to be seen.
As our 20-foot vessel glided to dockside and we began to disembark, however, a blue pickup truck with two soldiers from the People's Revolutionary Army lurched up. At the sight of the AK47 assault rifles and the glower on their faces, we understood quickly that the Marines definitely were not in charge.
Suddenly the sky filled with the scream of an A7 Corsair from the carrier Independence. It curved in a low sweep over the city. Antiaircraft fire coughed from the hills above. A heavy machine gun opened up just down the quay. Several young soldiers stepped from their hiding places and emptied a clip skyward from their AK47s.
Terrified by the mad roar, we dashed across the dockside street seeking refuge in St. George's main fire station. Policemen, firemen and stranded passers-by already were cowering in the corridors. By then, it had started to sink in: the American forces that had invaded Grenada at dawn were nowhere near the capital and U.S. jets were attacking Grenadan Army strongholds and antiaircraft emplacements still in action around the city.
The glib assumption that had cheered us aboard our little craft,the Odin C., was mistaken. The marines who had landed and captured Pearls Airport on the other side of the island had not moved across to occupy the capital. The Army Rangers who had landed at the Cuban-financed airport under construction at Point Salines to the south had not swiftly secured the American-run St. George's medical school and driven on to the capital as we expected.
Our boat, named after a Norse god of war, turned out to have been aptly baptized for the trip to St. George's. A tall policeman who said he was from immigration approached us as soon as the firing died down. He took our passports and checked our bags. On orders from the Army, he said, we were to stay put for awhile. He was firm but returned our smiles. We were flashing them all around, the smiles.
That was the beginning of more than six hours of mostly friendly detention. At first it seemed a good idea, in any case, to stay where we were. The A7s shrieked overhead at regular intervals. Sometimes their passage was followed by the blast of a bomb going off in the hills above, sometimes not. But nearly always it generated a roar from the antiaircraft batteries on Richmond Hill just behind the first station, some chatter from a 50-caliber machine gun nested several buildings away and the dry crackle of AK47 bursts.
The ugly sounds of war were ringing in an unlikely setting. St. George's still looked as it had on a previous visit. It appeared lazy, a little tacky, but gentle and beautiful. Winding streets rose abruptly from the harbor toward the hillside and the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches sat properly with Gothic spires of equal height atop a middle hill.
The incongruity of it all was driven home as an imperturbable Grenadan youth shuffled barefoot along the dock. Behind him, four Cuban-donated fishing boats, lashed together at dockside, bobbed back and forth in unison like a gray chorus line. Above him, an A7 thundered by, framed for an instant by the postcard harbor scene. All around him the antiaircraft fire echoed and snarled. Only he and the old Caribbean port seemed at home.
As the afternoon wore on, we started badgering our keeper for authorization to steal down to the telex office, 200 yards away. Without an okay from the military authorities, he insisted, that was impossible. It remained impossible all afternoon, despite pleading, arguing, cajoling and great invocation of the power of truth.
Darkness fell and the city went black. The telex office tantalized us, however, with light from a generator that had clicked on automatically when electricity gave way early in the attack. It seemed only a three-minute dash from where we stood. But the sight of soldiers racing by in pickup trucks, occasionally screeching to a halt for a look, made any challenge to our detention seem unwise. Three of our seven-man band came from the same country that had dispatched the jets and landed the soldiers.
Cpl. Alister George of the People's Revolutionary Army, who sped up several times in a gray Japanese-built truck, finally heeded our appeal. It was indeed important for the world to know what was happening on Grenada, he agreed.
After speeding around town looking for the keys, he gave up and dispatched two of us down to the office to see what could be done about getting in without them. The solution we finally came up with was to kick down a wall and walk through the hole.
By that time, however, the telex lines were dead. The bombing around Richmond Hill that had made us take cover all afternoon had defeated us, damaging a relay station through which foreign-bound telex and telephone calls pass. Nevertheless, we went next door to the telephone exchange to try a call, frantically sticking plugs into the switchboard and dialing away into the silence.
George and his companion, meanwhile, boasted that they had shot down three U.S. helicopters and blown up a jeepload of American troops near the beachside campus of St. George's medical school, where most of the nearly 1,000 Americans on Grenada were gathered.
The paratroops who had landed about 5:30 a.m. had taken the airport but then were driven back, the two young Grenadan soldiers asserted. Informed that we had seen C130 Hercules transport planes taking off and landing all afternoon and into the evening, they acknowledged that the airstrip remained in U.S. hands after all, but insisted that the "Yankees" had not advanced beyond a crossroads about a mile from the Cuban-built facility.
Gen. Hudson Austin, the army commander, "is very much in command," George said. "All the Revolutionary Council are in battle," he added.
Austin precipitated the crisis Oct. 19 by seizing power at the head of a 16-member Revolutionary Military Council and declaring a 24-hour curfew, whose violators were to be shot on sight. Many Grenadans had not been out of their houses since then.
Prevented from sending dispatches, we drove with Cpl. George through the black streets to the St. James Hotel, an establishment from another era just down a narrow street from Fort Rupert. The young soldier, after rousing the gracious owner from the maid's room, where she had taken shelter with an 80-year-old guest, declared that we were guests of the revolution in need of a room.
As he stood framed in the doorway, Soviet-style flak helmet on his head and AK47 at his side, he suddenly leaned inside and looked at the old woman sitting on a makeshift bed.
"Aren't you the lady that goes to the Gospel Church?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Muriel Fitt, a resident at the St. James. "I've been praying. I've been praying all day. Lord, it's all in the hands of the Lord."
As hotel matron Pearl Patterson busied herself rummaging through her office for keys and parceling out rooms, we turned to thank George.
"That is what the revolution is about, assisting people," he replied, then sped away into the darkness.
The night was punctuated by shellfire from the 20-ship Joint Task Force 120 hovering offshore under Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III. An AC130 gunship emitted hoarse, flushing roars and machine gun sprays. Although it was not apparent at the time, the People's Revolutionary Army was then stealing away from its defenses in the city to reinforce positions south of town on the road from the airport and at Richmond Hill.
The fort and its antiaircraft batteries seemed to be the target of most of the night's attack from the air. Flashes of light were visible above the harbor as the batteries shot back. The water below was colored red by the flames of Butler House blazing away unchecked on the promontory opposite the hotel.
By morning, the city was silent again. A passing youth said U.S. Marines were grouping in Queen's Park on the northern edge of town. Assured by other youths out in the street that the Grenadan Army was gone, we started out towards the marines.
Looters had smashed the entrances to two banks along the way. A number of shops had been pillaged. A group of youths outside one little dry goods store debated whether to steal what lay before them behind an already broken window.
"Come on man, you can't do that to the man's shop," one young man told his companion, and the girl standing nearby.
There was no reply.
About a mile's walk away, Lt. Col. Ray Smith and his Marine Amphibious Unit were setting up on the park's football field. M60 tanks, amphibious personnel carriers landed during the night, and a dozen jeeps had taken up positions around the grassy expanse.
Explosions shuddered down the hillside as one of Smith's guns set off an ammunition dump on a slope above the field. Detonations continued for half an hour, thumping across the little gorge into endless echoes and occasionally sending up red flares that arced ahead of graceful yellow tails.
A marine platoon leader shouted an order to halt. He checked identification, then smiled and asked for help.
"We just got here last night," he grinned. "Can you please tell us what the f--- is going on."
After our brief explanation, he hesitated and asked again: "Is the Grenadan Army on our side or theirs?"
Curious Grenadans, at first turned away by marines crouching behind machine guns and grenade launchers, were allowed to approach as the explosions subsided and the tension dissipated. The Grenadans, glad to be outdoors--and, like people under occupation everywhere, eager to be friendly with the army in charge--thanked the marines for coming and sought to shake their hands.
A young white marine officer brought a black trooper to Smith at one point, suggesting the soldier was originally from Trinidad and therefore could help "with the native language."
Grenadans speak English.
Smith's unit had landed the previous day at Pearls Airport on the other side of the island. His men secured it swiftly and reloaded onto ships for transport around the 133-square-mile island and a second landing yesterday at Queen's Park. He had run into almost no resistance in either spot. That was in sharp contrast with the Rangers, who U.S. spokesmen said had fought with Cubans as well as Grenadans in trying to gain control of the airport and move toward the U.S. citizens at the medical school.
Asked for help with communications, Smith said he would try to arrange a helicopter ride out to one of the Navy ships offshore in constant touch with Washington. Three of us who flew off two hours later to the USS Guam found out, however, that the Navy would not allow us to report to our newspapers over their communications facilities, arguing they were clogged with urgent military traffic.
Communcations also seemed to be a problem for U.S. forces in another way. Shortly after Radio Free Grenada went off the air on the morning of the invasion, broadcasts began on another frequency urging Grenadans to cooperate with the American soldiers who it said had come to free them from a tyranny "in the control of foreigners."
The broadcasts included Spanish-language appeals to foreigners on the island, presumably the Cubans working at the airport, in ministries and in the Army. The appeals urged them to stay out of the fighting, saying the invasion force was not directing its attack against them.
The new radio never identified itself. But it said a multinational Caribbean force would soon begin policing the island, leaving an impression it was only a matter of hours.
Before the hour was up, however, the radio abruptly went off the air, never signing off and never having identified itself. It was not heard from again and U.S. spokesmen for the operation command said they knew nothing about it.
In any case, the multinational force was nowhere to be seen. Only U.S. marines were visible today near St. George's. At the airport, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Army personnel filled the 9,000-foot Cuban-built airstrip with C130 Hercules, C141 Starlifter, and C5 Galaxy transport planes, helicopters of all varieties, commandeered Cuban cars, trucks and tractors and even a navy-blue Mercedes-Benz sedan with ambassador's flagstaffs on either fender. The Caribbean soldiers were not around.
This dispatch was filed by Edward Cody from Barbados. Communications from Grenada were disrupted on Tuesday when a U.S. attack force destroyed the island's relay station. Cody and three other correspondents covering the invasion were flown Wednesday to the USS Guam after they requested transportation to a filing point. Their request to send stories from the Guam was refused and they were unable to establish direct contact with their home offices. Instead the Pentagon notified their offices that the four had been evacuated under fire for their own safety. They were flown back to Grenada yesterday for the last major military operation there, and then flown to Barbados.