Today is the fiftieth anniversary of a watershed moment in the history of the West’s war against the most evil, murderous philosophy ever conceived. The Bay of Pigs fiasco was not just a defeat for Cubans on the island and in exile, it was a harbinger of sad defeats to come until the era of Reagan began. Our contributors have written some beautiful essays on this event that you will find below the fold. We hope all of you appreciate the solemnity of today’s anniversary for us in the Cuban-American exile community, and will say a prayer for the heroic men who fell fifty years ago today.
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An Anniversary of Heroism and Shame — the Bay of Pigs at Fifty
“They fought like tigers,” writes the CIA officer who helped train the Cubans who splashed ashore at the Bay of Pigs 50 years ago this week. “But their fight was doomed before the first man hit the beach.”
That CIA man, Grayston Lynch, knew something about fighting – and about long odds. He carried scars from Omaha Beach, The Battle of the Bulge and Korea’s Heartbreak Ridge. But in those battles Lynch and his band of brothers counted on the support of their Commander in Chief. At the Bay of Pigs, Grayston Lynch (an American) and his band of brothers (Cubans) learned — first in speechless shock and finally in burning rage — that their most powerful enemies were not Castro’s Soviet-armed soldiers massing in nearby Santa Clara, but the Ivy League’s best and brightest dithering in Washington.
Lynch trained, in his own words, “mostly 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 to sugar cane cutters, from aristocrats to their chauffeurs. But mostly, the folks in between, as befit a nation with a larger middle class than most of Europe.
Short on battle experience, yes, but they fairly burst with what Bonaparte and George Patton valued most in a soldier: morale. No navel-gazing about “why they hate us” or 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 it on the History Channel after our GI’s took places like Manila and Munich. In 1961 newsreels could have captured such scenes without crossing oceans. When those Cuban freedom-fighters hit the beach at the Bay of Pigs 50 years ago this week, one of every 18 Cubans suffered in Castro Gulag. Mass graves dotted the Cuban countryside, piled with hundreds who’d crumpled in front 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.
From the lethal fury of the attack and the horrendous casualties their troops and militia were taking, the Castro brothers and Che Guevara assumed they faced at least “20,000 invading mercenaries,” as they called them. Yet it was a band of mostly civilian volunteers their Soviet armed and led-troops outnumbered 30-to-1
“Where are the planes?” kept crackling over U.S. Navy radios two days later. “Where is our ammo? Send planes or we can’t last!” Commander Jose San Roman kept pleading to the very fleet that escorted his men to the beachhead (and sat much closer to them than the Sixth Fleet sits to the Libyan coast today.) Crazed by hunger and thirst, his men had been shooting and reloading without sleep for three days. Many were hallucinating. By then many suspected they’d been abandoned by the Knights of Camelot.
That’s when Castro’s Soviet Howitzers opened up, huge 122 mm ones, four batteries’ worth. They pounded 2,000 rounds into the freedom-fighters over a four-hour period. “It sounded like the end of the world,” one said later. “Rommel’s crack Afrika Corps broke and ran under a similar bombardment,” wrote Haynes Johnson in his book, the Bay of Pigs. By that time the invaders were dazed, delirious with fatigue, thirst and hunger, too deafened by the bombardment to even hear orders. But these men were in no mood to emulate Rommel’s crack Afrika Corps by retreating. Instead they were fortified by a resolve no conquering troops could ever call upon–the burning duty to free their nation.
“If things get rough,” the heartsick CIA man Grayston Lynch radioed back, “we can come in and evacuate you.”
“We will NOT be evacuated!” San Roman roared back to his friend Lynch. “We came here to fight! We don’t want evacuation! We want more ammo! We want PLANES! This ends here!”
Camelot’s criminal idiocy finally brought Adm. Arleigh Burke of the Joints Chief of Staff, who was receiving the battlefield pleas, to the brink of mutiny. Years before, Adm. Burke sailed thousands of miles to smash his nation’s enemies at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Now he was Chief of Naval Operations and stood aghast as new enemies were being given a sanctuary 90 miles away! The fighting admiral was livid. They say his face was beet red and his facial veins popping as he faced down his commander-in-chief that fateful night of April 18, 1961. “Mr. President, TWO planes from the Essex! (the U.S. Carrier just offshore from the beachhead)” that’s all those Cuban boys need, Mr. President. Let me order…!”
JFK was in white tails and a bow tie that evening, having just emerged from an elegant social gathering. “Burke,” he replied. “We can’t get involved in this.”
“WE put those Cuban boys there, Mr. President!” The fighting admiral exploded. “By God, we ARE involved!”
Admiral Burke’s pleas also proved futile.
The freedom-fighters’ spent ammo inevitably forced a retreat. Castro’s jets and Sea Furies were roaming overhead at will and tens of thousands of his Soviet-led and armed troops and armor were closing in. The Castro planes now concentrated on strafing the helpless, ammo-less freedom-fighters.
“Can’t continue,” Lynch’s radio crackled – it was San Roman again. “Have nothing left to fight with …out of ammo…Russian tanks in view….destroying my equipment.”
“Tears flooded my eyes,” wrote Grayston Lynch. “For the first time in my 37 years I was ashamed of my country.”
When the smoke cleared and their ammo had been expended to the very last bullet, when a hundred of them lay dead and hundreds more wounded, after three days of relentless battle, barely 1,400 of them — without air support (from the U.S. Carriers just offshore) and without a single supporting shot by naval artillery (from U.S. cruisers and destroyers poised just offshore) — had squared off against 41,000 Castro troops, his entire air force and squadrons of Soviet tanks. The Cuban freedom-fighters inflicted casualties of 20 to 1 against their Soviet-armed and led enemies. This feat of arms that still amazes professional military men.
“They fought magnificently and were not defeated,” stressed Marine Col. Jack Hawkins a multi-decorated WWII and Korea vet who helped train them. “They were abandoned on the beach without the supplies and support promised by their sponsor, the Government of the United States.”
“We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty!” proclaimed Lynch and Hawkin’s Commander-in-Chief just three months earlier.
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They didn’t fail
There is perhaps no occasion as emblematic of the wrongs perpetrated on Cuba and Cuban exiles as the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. Over the decades the betrayal- for such it was- of the brave men on the beaches that day has morphed into the decades-long denial, obstruction, and even derision they and our cause have endured. For the truth is that every Cuban in the United States has faced the denial of his or her own reality for over half a century, a denial crystallized in the treatment of those days.
There were no fans of JFK in my house. There was solemnity when he died but none of the wailing and renting of garments I had witnessed in the Irish Catholic parochial school I attended. It was only years later my mother enlightened me. During the Bay of Pigs, JFK withdrew air support at the last minute, leaving the men to be mowed down on the beaches, as she put it. It was only guilt which led him to ransom the survivors. Frankly, I didn’t believe her. After all, the history books in my college library all ascribed the lack of air support to a problem with synchronizing watches, ludicrous as it now sounds. It took PBS, believe it or not, to remove the scales from my eyes. And as the truth seeped out, was there a great hue and cry?
No, instead over the years we all became greedy Batistianos intent on recouping our economic losses and intent on destroying the grand experiment in universal literacy and health care. So the press focused on the failure of the invasion, (note invaders, not freedom fighters), on the failure of the Cuban people to rise up. It is maintained in some quarters that at the time there was not a great hunger for freedom, but it is more likely that ordinary human beings see no percentage in giving their lives when there is no hope of success. That’s what happens when one side has planes and tanks and the other doesn’t have enough ammunition. See Libya. And the men pinned down in the swamps on the other side of the Castroite forces, ten times their numbers? Well, they were already committed. They were ordinary human beings who in extremis found in themselves something extraordinary.
It is those men who weight heavily on me: those who died, and those who were imprisoned. Those hardy souls who have been relegated to the dusty corner of failed invasions. For they were and are freedom fighters, heroes every last one. (If you doubt, you have only to read Humberto Fontova’s description of the fighting.). They did not deserve what happened to them, just as they have not deserved the subsequent derision of those whose only experience of pseudo combat is the occasional pickup game. How would they and the Bay of Pigs be viewed if the truth appeared, say in a major motion picture, instead of the easy and fallacious stereotypes of pre-castro Cuba?
For these men there should be poems and monuments. The Bay of Pigs should be our charge of the Light Brigade; the warriors, our Mambis. Instead they are our Vietnam veterans. While I cannot change how history is written, I can and will bear witness. Every time the Bay of Pigs is mentioned, my heart will swell, whatever the world may think. It may label the Bay of Pigs a failure, but I know the failure was that of politicians, not of the men who sought to liberate their country, who would have spared it a half century of totalitarian misery, and who took to heart the line in the Cuban national anthem that goes “morir por la patria es vivir.”
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by Jorge Ponce
Today marks the 50th anniversary since the U.S. launched the ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, on April 17, 1961.
Rather than preparing a long discourse on this incident, I’ve decided to proceed on a different and more personal track. History books are available for those interested in reading the finer details of what really happened. But history books are static. I, on the other hand, am interested in recounting what the invasion meant to me, and the life lessons that it taught me.
On April 17, 1961, I was seven years old, and I was living in Cuba. April 17 was very special to me, as it was my birthday. Birthdays symbolize gifts, money, and a party where one got to be the center of attention. I was the darling of the crowd, and, at least for one day, I could do no wrong. So, when my parents informed me that I would have a scaled down celebration in 1961, I was not a happy camper. While my parents explained the danger that we were in, they promised me to host a much larger fiesta in a post-Castro Cuba Libre. Since the latter never materialized, my memory of April 17, 1961 is one of broken promises – both from my parents and from the U.S. Government.
For the United States, the Bay of Pigs represented a public embarrassment in the eyes of the world community. After it was over, former President Eisenhower told Kennedy that “the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do.” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev concluded that Kennedy was indecisive, and one Soviet adviser wrote that the President was “too young, intellectual, not prepared well for decision making in crisis situations … too intelligent and too weak.”
Soon after, Kennedy got another chance to handle a 3:00 AM crisis call. In the fall of 1962, the Soviet leadership believed, based on an analysis of Kennedy’s lack of confidence during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, that he would avoid confrontation and accept the missiles as a fact of life. In October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came as close as they’ve ever been to nuclear war over the offensive missiles stationed in Cuba.
Mistakes always trigger consequences. Some historians have treated Kennedy lightly over his handling of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. They claim that it happened just three month after he got elected, and that he was still learning the ropes of governing. While they are right, their arguments are not convincing. The job of President of the U.S. has no room for on-the-job training. It requires a rigorous screening process during the campaign season, and the winner is expected to hit the ground running. Thus, there is simply no excuse for Kennedy’s lack of leadership on that fateful day in 1961. It became a day of infamy for Cubans, for Cuban-Americans, for Americans, and for all freedom-loving people around the globe.
President Kennedy had promised those Cubans who participated in the invasion that he would provide them with air support – a promise that he reneged on. If he had changed his mind before launching the invasion, some people may have disliked his decision, but they would have accepted it in the long run. However, for him to have changed his plans after members of the U.S.-backed Brigade 2506 had landed on Cuban soil, and, thus, were in harm’s way, was unconscionable. There were many unnecessary casualties as a result. This was a monumental betrayal that Cubans and Cuban-Americans will never forget, nor forgive. Let it be known that the 2506 troops fought valiantly. They were driven by a desire to restore freedom and democracy to their homeland. They had placed all their hopes in the United States. They fervently believed that with U.S. backing, victory was a sure thing. They failed because of the lack of the promised air support, and because they fell short of ammunition.
They, the members of the 2506 Brigade, answered the question posed by the enemies of a Free Cuba that rather than fighting, Cubans voted with their feet by emigrating to the United States. On April 17, 1961, a bunch of over 1,400 Cuban exiles fought bravely an enemy made up of 51,000 Castro troops. And yet, they inflicted losses of 20 to 1 against a Soviet-trained army. They restored the manhood to the Cuban cause, and they silenced those who questioned it.
Despite being let down by a U.S. Administration, some Bay of Pigs veterans never lost faith in the exceptionalism of the United States. Some became officers in the US Army in Vietnam – including 6 colonels, 19 lieutenant colonels, 9 majors, and 29 captions. They have paid back many times over the debt that they owed this country for taking them out of the Cuban Gulag.
Cuban-Americans learned an important lesson on April 17, 1961. They learned that to succeed in the future, they could only rely on themselves. Fidel took away all their personal belongings when many emigrated to the United States. He declared them enemies of the Cuban Revolution, and punished them by letting them carry only the clothes on their back. They were not allowed to bring even a cent to the U.S. Nevertheless, Fidel was not able to take away the family cohesiveness, work ethic, and core values that allowed these Cubans to overcome all odds in the land of freedom and opportunities. One thing that Fidel was never able to take away from these Cubans was the college degrees that they had earned at the University of Havana. The Cubans considered the hard times in the beginning as a temporary nuisance. Through hard work, most looked adversity straight in the eyes and came out winners. Nowadays, Cuban-Americans hold the majority of crucial positions in Miami, Florida. Some have served as secretaries of cabinet-level federal agencies, others as U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, one was the CEO of Coca-Cola, one received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and another for Drama, and most have sent their kids to top-ranked universities. They have learned to be self-reliant and to be in control of their own destinies.
Many asked whether the United States would support a future insurrection in Cuba. My answer is that it depends on many factors, and that no one can be sure of what the final outcome would be. Cuban-Americans were again let down during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 after President Kennedy promised the Soviet Union that the United States would never invade Cuba in the future. They were again disappointed when the U.S. Government returned Elian Gonzalez to the Cuban Gulag – unwilling to understand that the real power-brokers of Elian’s fate would be the Cuban authorities, and not his biological father.
There is an opportunity currently for the United States to support an invasion to topple the Cuban regime. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Fidel Castro refused to repay Russia the approximate $28 billion lent to Cuba by the former Soviet Union. Fidel’s reasoning was that the money was owed to a country that no longer existed. Similarly, the agreement not to invade Cuba was agreed to by President Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. By using Fidel’s logic, this agreement is no longer binding on the United States as it was made with a country that no longer exists.
If some failed to grasp the lesson on April 17, 1961, many did afterwards. For Cuba to be free again, Cubans in Cuba will have to be their own agents of change. If the United States Government opts to help them out, let it come as a surprise, but not an expectation. For Cuban-Americans, the lesson was that they can only control the now, the present. Educational achievements, on-the-job experience, and the well-being of their immediate family are the tools to a rewarding life.
On April 17, 2011, let us give thanks in our own ways to the fallen and the living members of the 2506 Brigade. I will wear a Cuba lapel pin, drink a Cuba Libre with authentic Cuban Bacardi rum, and say a prayer to my God for giving us such titans.
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Cuba’s Stolen History
by Ziva Sahl
The Bay of Pigs, Playa Girón. One word comes to mind. As an American, it is a hard word to swallow, as it goes against every fiber of what I was taught by my parents and educators. That word is betrayal. The United States government abandoned fighting men on the battle field. The United States government left men abandoned to suffer defeat, death, and capture by the enemy, where they had been promised support and cover. What horrific betrayal, what horrific cowardice and shame. It was a monumental betrayal, unprecedented, and unforgivable. As a proud honorary member of the Cuban exile community, I am left with no choice but to denounce the J.F.K administration, the U.S. Department of State, and any individual who had a hand is this betrayal, and those who continue to perpetuate the lies, the charade of the “Bay of Pigs.” I permanently align myself with steadfast friends, friends not just of good times, but friends who are there in the darkest hours, friends who I know share my personal commitment to freedom, friends who I know as they say, have my back, friends I trust, not just with my heart, but with my life. Most of these friends in my life are Cuban, and are either members, family of, or friends of Brigada 2506. My oath is with them.
It is the fiftieth anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, failed by betrayal at the hands of Washington elites sitting safely behind desks, while the men of the Brigada fought like fearless tigers. (Read Humberto Fontova´s moving account of the Brigada’s heroic bravery in the face of insurmountable odds above.)
Fifty years have passed, and the Cuban people have suffered oppression, terror, and privation throughout each and every one of those years. Because of the betrayal by the Kennedy administration, there are hundreds of thousands former and current political prisoners whose scars will never heal, broken families mourning separation, generations of Cubans who never again saw loved ones murdered by the Castro regime, millions of Cubans suffering exile from their beloved homeland, and the eleven plus million of Cubans who are forced to live as slaves under the boot heel of the brutal psychopathic Castro brothers. According to the Cuba Archive, the Cuban death toll by the Castro regime, from torture, prison beatings, firing squads, machine gunning of escapees, drownings, etc., approaches 100,000. I believe that estimate to be low, but we will only begin to know the full scope of the horror when Cuba is free.
The consequence of that failed invasion can be seen around the globe. Fifty years of insidious propaganda from Cuba, enabled by the MSM, and conducted by Cuba’s extensive cultural exchanges which are tailored to support covert operation and elicit support for armed struggle, as well as to identify potential agents of intelligence and propaganda is pervasive, and effective. In the media, at schools and universities across the land, Cuban State propaganda now passes as fact. The result of this is apparent: The disgraceful withdrawal from Viet Nam and the vilification of our military, the degradation of traditional Judeo-Christian values, our failing schools that indoctrinate rather than educate, and it is especially apparent in our government. The President, Vice President, and members of congress, the constitution be damned, seem hell bent on destroying our country in the name of “social justice.”
According to the Black Book of Communism the Castro regime’s systematic efforts to destabilize governments in Latin America resulted in an estimated death toll of 150,000, with thousands more of foreign nationals, both military and civilians, attributable to Cuba’s internationalist wars and its support of subversion and terrorism.
It didn’t have to be so; the monsters named Castro could have been stopped if not for the betrayal. Imagine that stolen history.
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For Love of Country
by Alberto de la Cruz
I was but a gleam in my parents’ eyes in April of 1961 when a group of brave and courageous Cuban men stormed a beach in Cuba oblivious to the fact that they would not receive the support they expected and planned for, and that they would be left behind to die or be captured. I would not be born until years later, but throughout my childhood I was constantly reminded of the bravery and sacrifice of these truly exceptional men. And I was also reminded of the senseless and heartless betrayal they suffered at the hands of the Kennedy administration.
It was a difficult dichotomy to reconcile for a young child as myself who considered himself then — as I still do now — to be just as Cuban as he was American. How can the nation that allowed me to be born into liberty, who took in my family and hundreds of thousands of other Cuban families and gave them refuge and freedom, betray these Cuban patriots in such a cruel manner? But it was my family members and family friends involved in the failed landing at the Bay of Pigs that taught me how to reconcile these differences.
Never did I ever hear them utter a disparaging word against the United States of America, and I never heard any of them blame the country that took them in with open arms for the failure of their mission. On the other hand, John F. Kennedy did not fare anywhere near as well. He and his administration was the subject of many discussions and criticisms, which often times would begin after dinner and go into the early morning hours. One thing became clear listening to these conversations among men who had been there and had suffered the ravages of war, incarceration, and humiliation; if anyone was to blame for the failure of their mission, it was not the country that took them in, but the president that betrayed them on that fateful day.
And that summation is one of the most important things I was ever taught by my parents and the historic Cuban exile community; a man is not a country, and a country is not a man.
To them, just as Fidel Castro was not Cuba, Kennedy was not America. They loved Cuba for what it was and meant to them, not for who was ruling over it. And they loved America for what it stood for, the principles on which it was founded, and for providing them with freedom, not for who was its president.
The men of Brigade 2506 taught us what men of courage and honor are capable of, and they taught a young Cuban American boy how to be proud of being both Cuban and American.
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No Madre, Lágrimas No
By George Moneo
“Bahia de Cochinos.”
It seemed as though my grandfather spat the words out whenever he had to repeat them in a conversation.
I was four-and-one-half years old when the invasion took place. I remember nothing about it. We were living in New York City at the time, my entire family working, some more than one job to survive. Exile was hard, very hard. After our arrival in Miami the summer before the Missile Crisis, my family settled in for what had sadly been determined would be a long stay. Resignation. Estamos resignados a nuestro destino. My mother, twenty-nine years old at the time, recounts the joy and optimism that filled their days after they heard the rumors and sketchy news accounts of the invasion. “We’ll be back in Cuba in three months,” she recalls saying to her mom and dad. Joy turned into despair on learning of the defeat of the Cuban invasion forces at the hands of Fidel’s forces.
There was hope that Fidel would fall, of course; after all, how could the United States leave a dangerous communist like Fidel in power. The news of JFK’s betrayal in cancelling the air support for the invasion was a terrible blow for us. That, and his subsequent actions post-Cuban Missile Crisis, pretty much settled the question of whether we would return to Cuba or not.
Bahia de Cochinos. Playa Girón. So much pain for so many people.
The invasion at the Bay of Pigs was one of the defining events of the second half of the Twentieth Century. It solidified Soviet control of Cuba, thus ensuring the expansion of that evil, hateful philosophy in the Western Hemisphere. Nicaragua, Venezuela, Honduras, and Bolivia are ample proof of that. It also brought an end to the era of the United States unapologetically fighting communism around the world. For the first wave of Cubans here in the United States, it changed our temporary exile into a permanent one. And we are still angry about it. And we still long for that island in the Caribbean that has died a little death every day since April 17, 1961, fifty years ago today…
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“We Are Americans That Believe in Freedom”
By Robert Molleda
The following quote by Bay of Pigs veteran Esteban Bovo was from a piece which ran earlier this week on Miami’s Local 10 News:
No, we are not heroes. Because we are Americans that believe in freedom. We are Americans, or Cuban-Americans, any way you want to put it, that believe in democracy, that believe in the rights of others. And these rights, they don’t have in Cuba. (After 50 years), they still don’t.
Don’t just read what Mr. Bovo said. Please watch the entire 3:25 story here and you feel his words, his conviction and his pain. Kudos to Michael Putney and Local 10 News for a touching and accurate representation of the events and the purpose behind the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
The tears in Mr. Bovo’s eyes as he concluded his quote says it all. Sr. Bovo, eres un heroe.
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No Madre, Lágrimas No
por Manuel F. Artime
No Madre, lágrimas no.
Eleva tu corazón.
Sé que tu hijo murió,
también se donde, en Girón.
Pero lágrimas para que
si Dios lo hizo para él,
para esculpir con su fé
un monumento al deber.
Si Martí te lo bendijo
aquel “ABRIL 17”,
si Maceo dió a tu hijo
la fuerza de su machete
Si en aire que corría
por Playa larga y San Blás
se respiraba la hombría
de Mangos de Baraguá
Si a la luz del astro rey
Cuba gritó en su memoria
2506, con su garganta
no madre, lágrimas no.
Que su sangre extraordinaria
hacia el cielo se elevó,
y un triangulo rojo dió
a la estrella solitaria.