Grayston Lynch helped train, in his own words, “brave boys who had never before fired a shot in anger” — college students, farmers, doctors, common laborers, whites, blacks, mulattoes. They were known as La Brigada 2506, an almost precise cross-section of Cuban society of the time. The Brigada included men from every social strata and race in Cuba — from sugar cane planters and cutters, to aristocrats and their chauffeurs. But mostly, the band was comprised of the folks in between, as befit a nation with a larger middle class than most of Europe.
Short on battle experience, yes, but they were bursting with what Bonaparte and George Patton valued most in soldiers: morale. No navel-gazing about “why they hate us” or pondering the merits of regime change for them. They’d seen Castroism point-blank.
Their goals were crystal clear: firing-squads silenced, families reunited, tens of thousands freed from prisons, torture chambers and concentration camps. We see such scenes on the History Channel after our GIs took places like Manila and Munich. In 1961, newsreels could have captured much of the same without crossing oceans. When those Cuban freedom-fighters hit the beach at the Bay of Pigs 53 years ago this week, one of every 18 Cubans suffered in Castro’s Gulag. Mass graves dotted the Cuban countryside, filled with hundreds of victims of Castro and Che Guevara’s firing squads. Most of the invaders had loved-ones among the above. Modern history records few soldiers with the burning morale of the Bay of Pigs freedom-fighters.