By CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — Julio Castro sat at his uncle's Miami home as President John F. Kennedy came on the television the night of Oct. 22, 1962, to tell the nation the Soviet Union was building launch sites for nuclear missiles in Cuba capable of reaching almost every city in the Western Hemisphere.
Castro had fled the Caribbean island earlier that year, and his parents and siblings were still there. He'd joined the U.S. Army in August, thinking that with the help of a superpower, he and the growing contingent of exiles in Miami could defeat the communists who had taken control nearly four years before.
Now the world was on the verge of a nuclear war. Castro stood ready for his orders, ready to do anything to secure the United States and free his family. Even kill.
Ninety miles away, his brother was prepared to do the same.
Unbeknownst to one another, Julio and Jose Castro had both enlisted in the military, the older brother with the United States, the younger with Cuba. As the U.S. and the Soviets inched closer to catastrophe half a century ago this month, one brother stood in the trenches watching Soviet troops set up outside Havana, while the other awaited orders in Miami.
Each well knows what may have happened had Kennedy heeded some advisors' call to invade Cuba.
And each knew his role.
"War is war," says Julio Castro, now 71.
If it comes down to it, his 69-year-old brother says in Spanish, "you fire at the enemy."
Growing up before the revolution, the brothers shared a close bond.
As a teenager, Julio Castro remembers enjoying the delights of Havana: He would go around the city in his red Austin Healey coupe and hit the clubs with friends. His brother imagined doing the same when he was old enough.
Not everyone in Cuba lived such a life. Under Fulgencio Batista's rule, the gap between rich and poor grew wider and corruption was rampant. Suspected dissidents were killed. The boys' own grandfather, a congressman who belonged to an opposition political party, was followed and harassed.
Inside their own household, there was joy and discontent when Fidel Castro, who is not related to them, and the revolutionaries marched triumphantly into Havana and took control of the government in 1959. Their father, who had studied philosophy, liked the ideas of socialism. Their mother, on the other hand, was startled by the firing squad executions of former Batista officials and many others shown on television.
So was her oldest son.
"Cuban killing Cuban, this is not right," Julio Castro remembers thinking.
Jose Castro was also starting to develop a political consciousness of his own. He'd been asked to leave his Catholic school after joining a student revolutionary group, and because he was still too young for most jobs, his options were limited. His father found him work at a clothing factory, and it was there, speaking and meeting the workers, that he began to see another side of life in Cuba: The plight and exploitation of the underclasses.
"It was a world I didn't know," he recalls.
At night, when they met at home, the two young men refrained from discussing their political differences. But they increasingly led separate lives.
Jose Castro joined a union and pledged to enlist in the new government's revolutionary army, which was no small commitment.
In order to join up, Jose had to complete a 38-mile walk to prove his stamina. He bought a pair of comfortable shoes and prepared for the trek.
Before he left, his mother came into his room.
"I know you're going to walk," she said. "But I wish you wouldn't."
He looked at his mother, wishing he could say something to console her, but knowing that his mind was firm.
"I'm going," he said. "I've already promised to do it."
His older brother, meanwhile, had begun making arrangements to leave Cuba in the months after the battle at the Bay of Pigs, in which the Cuban military routed an invading brigade of American-trained Cuban exiles.
Julio Castro applied for a student visa with the help of an uncle in Miami, not telling his brother or his father. If either knew, he feared it could put his exit in jeopardy or endanger the entire family. So on a January day in 1962, he left for the airport alone in a taxicab, without saying goodbye to anyone.