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#2432: Duvalier: Joe Gaetjens, one of Papa Doc's "mistakes" (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
(Palm Beach Post, 12 Feb 00)
SHOT FROM NOWHERE
By Hal Habib
Their voices are going silent now, one by one. All those decades went by,
wasted, and we never bothered to listen to their story. Now we know better,
so we ask.
"In another 50 years," their running joke goes, "we'll be famous."
If only we could bring the 10 of them to the coffee table to tell us about
their team and its hero, Joe Gaetjens . . .
Joe? Ah, Joe. Everybody loved Joe. You met him, and 15 minutes later you'd
swear he'd been your buddy for years. He never bothered anybody, unless he
was playing against you.
Like that day in 1950, I'll never forget it. We're playing the British, so
we don't have any chance in hell, but Joe somehow sticks the ball in the
net - Joe scored the craziest goals - and we win 1-0. The United States
beats England in the World Cup 1-0! The British see 1-0 come over the wire
and figure it's a mistake, so they broadcast it as 10- 1 for England.
Never been an upset like it, not in soccer, anyway. Funny thing is, Joe
scored this huge goal for the United States and he wasn't even an American.
He was Haitian.
Why they let him play, I'll never know. That's how it was with Joe, see.
There's a lot nobody knows about the guy.
Ah, Joe. How could anybody kill little Joe?
Tonight, the national teams of the United States and Haiti will begin play
in the Gold Cup tournament. In a perfect world, Joe Gaetjens would kick out
the ceremonial first ball, putting a golden anniversary brush to the Orange
Bowl on the outskirts of Little Haiti.
It was said his goal made him a legend - or should have - but it did not.
It's said it made him immortal, but it could not. England did its best to
forget the whole thing happened, and the United States never pretended to
care. Gaetjens played a few more years, then returned to Haiti and opened a
dry cleaning business.
One morning in 1964 he was opening up shop, and suddenly, he was gone. The
Haitian government never issued a death certificate for him, but his
relatives and former teammates now know better. After years of wondering,
digging and cajoling, they determined Gaetjens was arrested by the Tontons
Macoute - Haiti's notorious secret police - then taken to dictator Francois
"Papa Doc" Duvalier's Fort Dimanche prison, and, within a few days,
Decades later, a voice on the telephone struggles for words. It's Lyliane
Gaetjens, Joe's widow who quickly fled Haiti with their three children.
"Even though he passed away some time ago," she says from her home in Fort
Lauderdale, "it was under tragic conditions. It's still a very painful
subject for me. This is why I don't like to give interviews."
What Lyliane cannot say, others will.
"It's one of the greatest sports stories of all time - greatest in a
sinister sense," Clive Toye says. Toye, who brought Pele to the United
States, was recruited by Gaetjens' family to assert international pressure
on the Haitian government for an explanation.
"The man scored the goal heard 'round the world then disappeared from the
face of the world," Toye said. "It's a tragic story."
Joseph Eduard Gaetjens was born in Port-au-Prince on March 19, 1924, to a
Haitian mother and Belgian father, from whom he inherited his light skin.
He came to New York to study accounting at Columbia University but ended up
working as a dishwasher at a German restaurant in New York, where one day
he told the owner he loved to play soccer.
"If you play soccer the way you wash dishes, forget about it," the owner
Nevertheless, the man arranged for Gaetjens to try out for the local team.
Gaetjens had his quirks, like wearing his socks down around his ankles, but
his speed and knack for scoring earned him local acclaim, then a spot on
the U.S. team that would compete in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. Never
mind that Gaetjens wasn't a citizen - back then if you declared your
"intent" to become one, that apparently was enough.
"Joe was a free spirit, and that's how he scored goals," said Walter Bahr,
72, a midfielder on that team. "He was always getting goals and you'd say,
'How the heck did he get to that ball?' He would go around people, through
people, over people, all the time."
The U.S. team was a motley crew of semipros: a truck driver, a mechanic and
a hearse driver united for $5 a day in meal and laundry money. Narrow
losses to England's 'B' team in a tune-up and to Spain in the first match
of the World Cup raised hopes that against England, maybe, just maybe, they
would get trounced rather than humiliated.
June 29, 1950:
We've played 37 minutes and they still hadn't scored on us. So Bahr takes
this throw-in from Ed McIlveney and he's 25 yards from the goal, going from
his right to his left, and he takes this shot, see.
Their goalkeeper was Bert Williams, and he dives to his right, but somehow
Joe dives through all this traffic - I swear he flew 14 feet - and heads
the ball to Williams' left.
Joe scores the goal of his life, and you know what? He doesn't even see it!
He was face-down on the grass. That's Joe for you.
Nobody knows exactly what to make of this, especially with 53 minutes left
"We thought it was just a matter of time before they put a couple in our
net," Bahr said.
The English almost did, if not for a debatable call here or there and a
football-style tackle that abruptly ended a breakaway. The Brazilian crowd
of 10,151 went crazy, figuring the home country now had a clear path to the
World Cup (Brazil ended up runner-up to Uruguay).
"They carried some of us off on their shoulders," said forward John Souza,
79, who now lives in Port St. Lucie. "There was a big moat with a big, high
fence. They came right over that onto the field and picked us up."
The U.S. players were stunned.
"It depended on your point of view," said defender Harry Keough, 72, of St.
Louis. "I went up to (forward) Frank Wallace and said, 'Boy, I feel sorry
for these poor guys. We never should have beaten them. Then we walked to
the dressing room and (midfielder) Charlie Colombo says, 'It's about time
we beat these bastards!' "
The English press - when it figured out the actual score - was horrified.
Papers published editions with black borders, and The Daily Express said
England had been "outplayed by American amateurs and semipros."
"It would be like a bush-league team coming to the Bronx and beating the
New York Yankees," said London's Brian Glanville, author of The History of
the World Cup. "I think it was the biggest (soccer) upset of all time. I
hate being reminded of it."
Mystery surrounds the event: Only one American reporter was in attendance,
so it received scant attention, especially with the Korean War breaking
out. Even The New York Times, in a wire account, credited the goal to Ed
Souza (no relation to John Souza). The Soccer Hall of Fame, which inducted
Gaetjens in 1976, could find only 10 seconds of footage. Despite claims to
the contrary, no photograph of Gaetjens scoring the goal is known to exist.
Momentum-wise, "I don't think we got anything from it," Hall of Fame
historian Colin Jose said. A 5-2 loss to Chile sent the American team home,
never to play together again. Another 40 years would pass before the U.S.
qualified for another World Cup, and 43 years went by before the U.S.
defeated England again.
"This team never received the credit anywhere for what it did," Jose said.
"It was always considered to be a fluke rather than a good performance."
Said Bahr: "I never even did an interview about that game for I bet 25
By the time television lifted the World Cup and its history to new heights,
by the time the world realized what Gaetjens had accomplished, it was far
too late to let him know.
"His two best friends killed him," Joe's son, Richard, told soccer author
Frank Dell'appa in 1991.
Richard, who grew up to become an actor in Los Angeles, said he returned to
Port-au-Prince, found his father's killers, and confronted them.
"I talked to the one who pulled the trigger," said Richard, who died of
cancer in 1993.
The family also located an old family friend, a senator who was in Fort
Dimanche with Gaetjens and other political prisoners. The friend was soon
transferred to another jail and recalled a guard telling him, "You're
lucky, because last night they killed everybody at Fort Dimanche."
Fort Dimanche, since shut down, had 15-foot-square cinder block cells. At
midnight, guards would call out a name, take that prisoner to the
courtyard, stand him against the wall, and execute him. Evidence points to
Gaetjens being led to that wall on or about July 10, 1964, two days after
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, responding to Toye, issued a
report in December 1979, citing a "serious violation" and concluding, in
"Joseph Nicolas Gaetjens was arrested in Port-au-Prince on July 8, 1964, at
10 a.m. by an armed, uniformed police officer, Lt. Edouard Guillot, and by
two armed plain-clothesmen in the presence of numerous people.
"No proof has been shown that he was brought before competent authorities.
The fact that Mr. Gaetjens, a football player of international standing,
has not been seen since his detention in 1964 leads to conclusion that he
Joe's brother, Jean Pierre, 65, who now calls St. Thomas, Virgin Islands,
home, said police were waiting for Joe when he arrived at the store.
"The police station was not far, about four or five blocks away," Jean
Pierre said. "They went to him when he was still in the car and put a gun
to his head. One of them moved into the driver's seat, one in the back, and
drove to the police station. From there on we never heard of him. His wife
was authorized to pick up the car maybe a week later."
Said Toye: "The story is his brothers were politically anti-Duvalier, and
Joe himself was a happy-go-lucky soccer player. But he was the one who was
still in Haiti, and he owned a dry cleaning store coveted by someone in the
Tontons Macoute. Because a major could take over the dry cleaning store,
and gain some revenge, it was two very good reasons for them to exercise
the authoritarian strength he had."
Jean Pierre agreed: "It was customary to arrest relatives in Haiti just to
stop those outside from doing anything against the government." Three of
the brothers, Jean Pierre said, opposed Duvalier while in the Dominican
Republic and one even participated in an attempted overthrow.
And thus, Joe Gaetjens, the player who once returned his salary because he
felt his performance hadn't been up to standard, the husband who enjoyed
planting roses in the family's home in the hills overlooking
Port-au-Prince, was gone. w+.3
"Every time I go to a game, I'm reminded of that," Jean Pierre said, tears
beginning to fill his eyes as night fell in Paris, which he frequents on
business. "It's a sad story. He could have been with us. When he returned
to Haiti he would train young people, going to the poorest section of town
to help. Joe was never a rich man, but any money he had, he'd give to
anybody he feels needs it . . . "
Friday, three current members of the U.S. National Team were asked what the
name Joe Gaetjens meant to them. Their answers were the same: nothing. Then
it was explained to them.
"Oh," said one. "I should have known that.
* Palm Beach Post researchers Geni Guseila and Lynne Palombo and Soccer
America magazine contributed to this report.