In 1968, two years before I was born, my mentor, R. Brooks Fleig, along with his wife Kit, took a diving expedition to the Cayman Islands. On their return trip to Miami, Brooks noticed the Eastern Airlines flight was headed in the wrong direction. It was just before sunset, and the sun was on the wrong side of the plane.

Suddenly the flight attendant, having just served dinner, began taking up all the trays early. As she got to Brooks, he asked her what was happening, and she stated in a low voice, “we’re being hijacked to Cuba.”

The year Brooks passed, he created a brief autobiography detailing some of his significant life events, which we roughly edited together. I’ve made a few revisions to his quotes below for grammatical clarity, but otherwise, a great deal of this story I want you to hear in his original voice. I’ve probably cut a thousand words from this story – if you think I should have left in more detail, please let me know in the comments.

Brooks related, “There were Cuban nationals on the plane. As soon as they heard we were headed for Cuba, they started burning papers in the ashtrays to hide the names and addresses of other nationals the Cuban government might be trying to find or detain.”

The flight landed, and they were commanded to turn off all interior lights as soldiers surrounded the aircraft. Approximately ten men in unmarked army uniforms wearing sunglasses and brandishing US carbine rifles entered the plane without warning. They walked down the aisle with flashlights stopping at each seat and shining them on the passengers’ faces and underneath the seats. They confiscated film from many people’s cameras except for Brooks’ underwater Nikonos, hanging in full view around his neck.

The passengers were then introduced to their “guide,” a large, heavy-set man wearing a French beret with a Cuban flag on the front who spoke perfect English. He led them from the plane into the terminal with soldiers all around. Once inside, he said, “Welcome to Cuba!” then shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

At this point, the Cuban nationals were taken into another room. One Mexican woman standing very close to Kit (Brooks’ wife) kept saying in the form of a mantra, “Not Cuban, Mexican!, Not Cuban, Mexican!, Not Cuban, Mexican!” She was eventually taken away and later returned. Afterward, she came straight to Kit and said, smiling, “Not Cuban, Mexican.”

From 1957 to 1960, Brooks served in the US Army in Europe as a 532nd Military Intelligence Group member. He knew if the Cubans discovered this fact, he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Fortunately, these were the days before computers!

Eventually, later that night, the soldiers loaded the passengers onto a bus. Their guide told them, “You are being transported to another airport for a flight back to the US. You should be home in a couple of hours.” They departed with a two-car escort, one in front of the bus and one behind.

Brooks recalled, “I had a Zenith Trans-Oceanic Radio that I took on all our trips. As we traveled, I tuned to WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, just as our hijacking was being reported. When we arrived at the airport, there were no lights but more soldiers with Browning automatic rifles. Our bus followed the lead car onto the runway and stopped.”

“Just to the side of the car was a large military-style truck with the back covered. Do you remember the old world war two movies, where the bus pulls up, the people are told to get out, and the back of the truck opens full of soldiers with machine guns who kill all the people? That’s exactly what the scene looked like. I said to Kit jokingly, “don’t get out – they’re going to kill us all!” I was a little too loud, and the other people on the bus didn’t think it was funny! They had also seen the movies!”

“Our guide said, “Your government didn’t send a plane tonight, but they will tomorrow. We are taking you to a hotel.” We pulled away from the airport and went directly to a hotel on Varadero Beach. It was after midnight when we arrived. As we disembarked the bus, a Cuban band played a tune we all knew, ‘Guantanamera,’ to greet us.”


“During dinner, the fat man in the beret continually made announcements and gave us information about our accommodations. Most emphatically, he also reminded us that Premier Castro was taking care of everything and that the food and lodging were his treat. Later, we found out he billed the US State Department $250.00 ($2,077.00 in 2022) for each hijacked person.”

“Around 2 am, all the passengers got escorted to their lodgings. Our cabaña had a bed in the center of the room, a table, two chairs, and a separate bathroom with a shower. Three of the walls were screened with curtains that could be closed – they told us to leave them open. Sometime during the night, I got up to go to the bathroom, accidentally stumbled over a chair, and suddenly there was a flashlight on me. The beam then moved from me to the bed and then to the rifle held by the soldier. I understood and went back to bed – the bathroom could wait!”

“I awoke to find the inside seam of my pants had completely given way, from the crotch to the ankle. It was still early, so I went to the hotel desk and showed them my dilemma. They took me to the linen room for repairs. When I entered, a life-size photo of Lenin (the leader of the Communist Party) confronted me. Lenin in the linen room was somewhat amusing but not possible to explain in Spanish! The sewing ladies laughed at my problem and then led me to the barbershop to wait in a barber chair covered with a sheet while they did repairs. They soon completed my pants, and breakfast was on our mind.”

“They served the food around the hotel swimming pool. After eating, I noticed I had one color picture left in my camera, so I used it to photograph the few adults there for breakfast.” In the photo below, Brooks and Kit are standing on the right in the back row.

“I wanted to get some other shots, but I was out of film. There was a gift shop in the lobby, and that seemed the logical place to look. I was correct – they had 35mm, 400 ASA black and white film. They sold me two rolls. Having film that fast made taking pictures easy.”

“We learned just before we boarded the bus to depart for the US that most young people had escaped in the night and gone into the small town nearby. One of the kids had taken a sign off a local police station but was wearing shorts and had no place to hide it. The girl approached Kit for help as her full-length skirt was just suitable for concealing the souvenir. She became the hero of the moment to them.”


“The ride to the airport and back to Miami was uneventful. Upon arrival in the States, a reporter approached me from Life Magazine about buying my photos. We agreed for him to take the rolls of film, develop them, and then decide on the money. About two weeks later, we made a deal. Yes, I know you are asking how much did you get? Five thousand dollars.”

When Brooks told me the details of this story, he showed me his published photos in the actual Life magazine from April 18th, 1969. In it, there’s an ad for a new car, the Ford Maverick dubbed “the first car of the ’70s…at 1960 prices.” It costs $1,995. The way I looked at it, Life magazine had given Brooks two and a half new cars for his photos!

One thing I always observed in Brooks – he was unshakable. He stayed rock solid and in the present moment no matter the circumstances. It made him a good police officer and a great chaplain for our parish. Keeping cool also earned him $40k in 2022 dollars after being part of an international hijacking!

Whenever I’m faced with circumstances that have taken me completely out of control, I often remember my mentor’s tale and his courage. Poise under pressure, coolness under fire, consistently earns compensation in the long run. Patience always pays big dividends. Staying present and going with the flow feels really incredible in the afterglow.

Maharaj-ji Baba Neem Karoli taught me, “Courage is a big thing.” and “Don’t lose heart. God helps those who are courageous.” My mentor Brooks modeled that courage for me for more than two decades.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

May we learn the courage derived from eternally placing our trust in the Divine. May we all exercise peace so profound that it passes comprehension!


Ram Ram,


P.S. If you are interested, here’s a link to the Life Magazine issue where Brooks’ photos appeared: