Lewis was already retired by the mid-1990s when Gitmo became awash in tent camps for more than 50,000 Haitian and Cuban boat people who were intercepted en route to Florida. He was earning a government pension and refining his stroke on the golf course when Washington ordered a downsizing that closed up housing and cut the base population to 2,400 by late last year.
Now, about 6,000 people live here, both U.S. forces and contract workers.
In January, the Pentagon found a new purpose for Gitmo - America's off-shore detention center for international terror suspects from Afghanistan's Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda movement.
"The United States is in a state of war right now, " Lewis said. "This place is essential." By cultural measures, this place is less Cuban than many corners of Miami. There are no cafecito counters, and meals are spicy at The Cuban Club, a base restaurant where Jamaicans work in the kitchen, and the menus are in English.
Dennis Miller, 39, runs it. He was born on the base and went to school here and still lives with his Cuban-born mother, Paulina Wilson, 70, who has worked full-time in the Navy hospital linen room for 35 years. His father died years ago, as did his kid brother, who had moved to Miami and was killed in a train accident.
Now Miller says he prefers the solitude of Gitmo to the fast life of, say, Miami, which he has visited. "This is my home. I feel comfortable here."
So does his Santiago-born mother, who decided to stay in 1962 to earn money as the nanny to Navy officers' children - and find a way to send some back home to the daughter and son she had left with her parents.
"They told me that they thought it would last for six months, maybe, " she recalled wryly. "I'm still waiting for those six months."
Meantime, she has missed her parents' funerals and has only spoken to her two Cuban-side children by telephone through a third-country hook-up. "They're married now. They have their own children now. God give me the strength."
But, she said, she has made good on her plan to ship a share of her earnings to family in Castro's Cuba. Twice this year, she sent $600, via Canada.
"I'm glad that I'm here and I can help them. If I couldn't help them it wouldn't be worth it," she said.
Work is one reason that Harry Sharpe, 72, stays. He runs the buffet line at the Mongolian Barbecue at the Windjammer restaurant, where he pulls down a $2,200-a-month salary and gets two weeks of paid vacation.
It's a big improvement over the 12 cents an hour he earned his first day of work - March 30, 1953 - first pushing a wheelbarrow, then polishing brass plates in a command office. Another incentive, he said, is that housing has been free ever since July 30, 1963, when he finally moved in.
"My goal is to go back to Cuba and live when Castro leaves or when the U.S. lifts the embargo, so I can get my pension there, " said Sharpe, who is three years away from full retirement.
Sharpe has obtained U.S. citizenship and a home in Pensacola. And he has family scattered between the United States and Cuba. U.S.-born nephews Shannon, Sterling and Lewis Sharpe were NFL players. Two other nephews, the sons of a different brother, are doctors at a government-run hospital in Havana.
Yet, with a 30-foot boat here and free medical care that saw him airlifted to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. for a thyroid condition, he is in no hurry to leave. If the Cuban system is unchanged when he retires, he says, he might move to Detroit, where a brother lives.
"Pensacola's too slow for me, " he explains. "And I don't much like Miami. It's too much 'Cuba' there. Everybody's the boss there. They're going to go back and take over. They've been saying that for 40 years."
Meantime, the Navy is grappling with increasing concern for the Cubans' deteriorating health, first recognized in a 1991 Navy command directive that authorized officers to "provide for the geriatric needs" of this special community.
Several have been flown to U.S. Navy facilities for surgery. Six receive meals-on-wheels, delivered from the hospital's kitchen. Among them is a woman with advanced dementia and no next of kin.
Soon, Buehn said, the Navy will assign a sailor full-time to oversee their needs. Now the work is done ad hoc by the command staff and Spanish-speaking volunteers.
Buehn said some of the last 64 may yet move away, to join adult children who have grown up and moved to the United States, mostly to Florida.
"Many have places they can go, " he said. "But they like it here. It's Cuba still."