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American flag flies at embassy in Cuba for first time since 1961

Half a century after it came down in a Cold War chill, the American flag is flying again over a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

The American flag was hoisted Friday over the U.S. Embassy in Cuba for the first time in more than half a century, marking the end of a Cold War-era diplomatic freeze between two countries 90 miles apart.

"We are gathered here because our leaders made a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history," Secretary of State John Kerry declared. He is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the communist island since World War II.

"My friends, it doesn't take a GPS to realize that the road of mutual isolation and estrangement that the United States and Cuba were traveling is not the right one and that the time has come for us to move in a more promising direction," Kerry said. "In the United States, that means recognizing that U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba's future will be forged."

Secretary of State John Kerry, and other dignitaries watch as U.S. Marines raise the U.S. flag over the newly reopened embassy in Havana, Cuba, Aug. 14, 2015.

The ceremony was rich with history: Three of the very Marines who lowered the flag at the Embassy in 1961 were hand to watch it fly again, Larry Morris, Mike East, and Jim Tracey. Back then, the three men were confronted by a large crowd who parted as the Marines lowered the flag.

"Larry, Mike and Jim had done their jobs, but they also made a bold promise -- that one day they would return to Havana and raise the flag again," Kerry said.

Years later, the men returned to fulfill their promise.

"Larry, Jim, Mike. This is your cue to deliver on words that would make any diplomat proud, just as they would any member of the United States Marine Corps: "Promise made, promise kept," Kerry told the men as moments later the flag was raised.

Kerry praised both nations' leaders for deciding they would "stop being prisoners to history."

"I applaud President Obama and President Castro for having the courage to bring us together in the face of considerable opposition," Kerry said.

Celebrated poet Richard Blanco, who read a composition at Obama's second inauguration, recited a poem entitled "Matters of the Sea."

The historic shift from Cold War era relations was memorialized in July when Cuban officials inaugurated their embassy in Washington.