Jose “Pepe” Noriega , one of over 14,000 children who came to the U.S. as part of Operation Pedro Pan, speaks with Lynn Guarch Pardo about the role her father, Jorge “George” Guarch, played in the historic airlift.
LGP: My name is Lynn Guarch Pardo.
PN: And my name is Jose Noriega, but everybody calls me Pepe.
LGP: Pepe, how did you feel when you got on that plane?
PN: Well, it’s like one life ended and another one begin. We were away from our family for a long time, or maybe never see them again, you know. So it was very, very tough.
LGP: When was the first time that you heard about my dad?
PN: My dad in Cuba said, ”When you go there you’re going to ask for George.”
So I came out of the walkway to the plane and there was a policeman. So I asked for George and he said, ”George? You cannot miss him. He is over there waiting for you guys to get out of there.”
He was there every day. So George took us to your house. And your mom prepared for us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the lunchtime. That’s something I will never forget.
PN: You know, his heart was bigger than his body. And things that were not possible, he will find a way to take care of that.
LGP: I heard stories of siblings that arrived and one of them was already eighteen. And immigration worked with my dad there at the airport and every once in awhile they would ”accidentally” spill a cup of coffee, smear the document, then change the date on the document to keep the kids together so that they. . .
PN: Yes . . .
LGP: . . . would not be out on the streets right away.
PN: That cup of coffee went around very often. [Laughs]
So, later on in life I saw George, and we decide to go to lunch on Wednesdays. So Wednesdays at twelve o’clock either he will go to my office or I’ll go to his place of work. And we did that for many years. Until one day that I went to get him and he has died the day before.
LGP: It’ll be twenty years this May. And I remember the first time that I met you as an adult. I remember you having tears in your eyes when you gave me a hug and told me how you felt about my father.
PN: He was one of my best friends. I got five fingers. I only can count all my good friends with one hand, and George was maybe number one. And every time we talk about him you’re going to get wet eyes, too, believe me.
LGP: Well, I’m glad he was there for you kids. Because I know he was the right person for that job.
PN: I still miss him.
LGP: I miss him too.
PN: I know.