By Humberto Fontova

Thursday, April 17, 2003

April 17 is the 42nd anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

"Freedom is our GOAL!" Roared Pepe San Roman to the men he commanded. "Cuba is our CAUSE! God is on our SIDE! ON TO VICTORY!!"

Fifteen hundred men crowded before San Roman at their Guatemalan training camps that day. The next day they’d embark for a port in Nicaragua, the following day for a landing site in Cuba named Bahia De Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Their outfit was known as Brigada 2506, and at their commander’s address the men absolutely ERUPTED.

A scene of total bedlam unfolded. Hats flew. Men hugged. Men sang and cheered. Men wept. The hour of liberation was nigh – and these men were putting their lives on the line to see their dream fulfilled. Their dream was a Cuba free from the murderous barbarism that tortured it, free from firing squads, torture chambers and the teeming Castroite Gulag. A Cuba where the sickening yell of "PAREDON! PAREDON!" would be forgotten. A Cuba where the chilling command of "FUEGO!" would be a horrible memory and nothing more. A Cuba where patriots served their nation. Not one where they were beaten, bound, gagged and tied to a stake at dawn, to be riddled by Russian bullets.

In brief, a Cuba freed from the Castro-Soviet yoke. Bits of truth occasionally slip past Castro’s soul mates and censors in the Beltway press. These portray some Cubans as victims of Castroism. Okay, fine. But the men of Brigada 2506 weren’t having any of that. Victim status wasn’t for them. The Castroites were about to learn a little lesson in victimization themselves – their OWN!!

These Cuban liberators weren’t asking GIs to do their fighting, bleeding and dying, either. All they expected was the promised air cover. Terms like "liberation" were point-blank and crystal clear to these men. No navel gazing about the merits of "regime change" for them. Babbling foreigners in sandals and strange robes wouldn’t be the ones greeting them. They’d be bashing open prison doors and bulldozing down barbed wire, all right – but their own fathers, uncles, cousins and even sisters, aunts, daughters would be the ones staggering out to suffocate them with hugs and sobs.

One of 19 Cubans was a political prisoner that horrible year. Dozens of American citizens languished in La Cabana’s cells too. Every dawn the clump of boots echoed down the dank hallways of this Spanish fortress in Havana’s harbor. The men who heard them pass breathed a little easier. The ones who heard them stop … steeled themselves. Most had prepared themselves. "My death is minutes away,” wrote Rogelio Gonzalez Corzo to his parents. "Have strength as I do during this time. Please do not lament. ... Remember that I await you in heaven with my dear grandparents. I want you to know that my last thoughts on earth were about you and my brothers and sisters. ..."

Rogelio was a member of the youth group Catholic Action. In 1970 a Cuban exile group reported that 15,672 heroes had shared Rogelio’s fate in front of Helluva Guy’s* firing squads. (*Ted Turner’s term for Castro) "Phooey!" spat the usual pink groups. "More self-serving lies from those Cuban exile crackpots!"

In 1998 "The Black Book of Communism" came out, a scholarly and meticulously researched book by French intellectuals (of all people!) considered the definitive account of Communist crimes in the last century. Their chapter on Cuba mentions 16,000 firing squad executions.

Tragically, their liberators did not arrive in time. But – as we’ll see in a second – by God, they were trying.

Every one of those proud and pumped men (and boys – many were younger than Jessica Lynch) of Brigada 2506 was a volunteer. A good number had wives and children. Some were formerly wealthy. "SEE?! SEE?!" snivel the Pinks. "We told ya! Only those beastly, slave-driving sugar mill and factory owners opposed Castro!" Others hailed from humble backgrounds … "SEE?! SEE?!" they snivel again. "Just like those effete millionaires to sit back and hire their gardeners and foot servants to recoup their mansions for them!"

You can’t respond to Castro groupies. After 40 years of their wholesale idiocy, I expect better logic and more maturity from a Britney Spears fan. So let’s forget them.

Point is, 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. Victor Triay’s excellent "Bay of Pigs, an Oral History" gives the exact breakdown. Only a hundred of these volunteers had military backgrounds. They made up for their martial inexperience with a morale and gung-ho attitude, with a passion and spunk, that constantly amazed their American trainers. These had earned their spurs in places like Omaha Beach, Bastogne, Corregidor, Inchon and Iwo Jima. They were excellent judges of morale.

And they got caught up in the emotion of the ceremony, too. As they listened to San Roman, these American officers cheered every bit as lustily as the Cubans. Envisioning Cuba’s liberation and Castro’s comeuppance will do that to honorable men – especially when they have a hand in it.

But had they known what the wizards of the New Frontier were doing to their operational plans, that cheering would have ended – and pronto. As one of them gasped two days later, when he learned of the canceled air strikes: "WHAT??!! Are they NUTS??!! There goes the whole f***ing war!"

Heard how President Bush handled this last one? He made the final decision, all right. But then he backed off, leaving the operational details to the Defense Department and the military men.

No such humility from the Best and the Brightest: They insisted on sticking their manicured fingers in everything. First off, they nixed the original landing site at Trinidad. This coastal town 100 miles east of the Bay of Pigs was originally chosen by the CIA and military men because it was a hotbed of anti-Castro sentiment. Rebellions had started there as soon as three months after Castro’s takeover in January ’59.

Also, the nearby Escambray Mountains crawled with anti-communist guerrillas, who were giving the Castroites fits. These would join the invaders. Also, the local militia were known to be disloyal to the Reds. Most of these would join the invaders. Also, a concentration camp holding 6,000 anti-communist prisoners was located right outside Trinidad. These would link up too. The invasion supplies even included weapons for them. Just as importantly, only two major roads led to Trinidad from the north, so any Castro troops moving in would have been sitting ducks for the Brigade’s air force. Alas, landing in a populated area like Trinidad was deemed "too noisy" by the New Frontiersmen. They had a fetish about hiding the U.S. role (this massive secret!). Any hint of such a role might discomfit the Latin American "street," you see.

And, mercy me, what would the U.N. say? The Best and the Brightest suffered a veritable fit of the vapors just thinking about it. So, back to the drawing board for the planners. They returned with a landing site at the Bay of Pigs, a desolate swamp. This was worse from a military standpoint but had a good chance of success – given total air superiority, given the complete obliteration of Castro’s air force. This was stressed by the military and CIA planners, just as it’s stressed here by me. Don’t let Camelot’s Press Agency (the Beltway media and academia) feed you any malarkey about this all-important factor, please, friends. JFK’s civilian wizards further demanded that the invasion take place at night. (That way nobody would notice it, you see.) The military planners gaped. From Operation Torch in North Africa through Normandy through Saipan and Okinawa through Inchon – nothing like this had ever been attempted. All those took place at dawn. No matter. The Knights of Camelot had spoken. Good day, gentlemen ... shoo, shoo. Now will you please run along? We have pressing social engagements.

Amazingly, the initial landing went down fairly well. The beachhead and an airstrip were secured in the first few hours. Castro’s soldiers were falling back, others surrendering, many others switching sides. Fidel and Che got the news and freaked. They went absolutely apes**t. Sure, they knew something was coming. But still ... Remember Prissy in "Gone With the Wind"? "But Miss Scaw-let! I don’t know nutin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies!"

Fidel was running around as frantically. "I don’t know nutin’ ’bout fighting no REAL war! Not when people SHOOT BACK and everything!" He was blabbing insane and contradictory orders to all and sundry. First he rushed to a sugar mill near the invasion site where his troops were massing, royally fouled things up there, then rushed 300 miles east to Pinar Del Rio where, he assured everyone, the "real" invasion was coming. He could tell from a huge fleet massing just offshore. He wasn’t falling for that little feint at the Bay of Pigs. No, sir. So he ordered the masterful Che Guevara with thousands of troops to dig in there and brace for the Yankee attack.

"Seguro, mi Commandante!" Che saluted and spent three days there, 300 miles from the battle, without firing a shot. Just offshore from the wily Che were a few rowboats packed with Roman candles, bottle rockets, mirrors and tape recorders. The thing was a CIA ruse. Che and his soldiers lucked out. Their almost 50,000 comrades at Giron were falling like flies. The Red tank columns and massed infantry reeled and staggered from the tiny Brigada’s massed firepower. The lethal fury of the Brigadista attack had the Reds thinking they faced 20,000-30,000 "Yankee mercenaries," as they called them. Yes, the Castroites were tasting a little of that "victimization" themselves – and with a glorious vengeance!

Yet their foes were a band of mostly civilian volunteers they outnumbered almost 40 to 1, with an amazing soldier named Erneido Oliva as second in command. No amount of heroism and pluck can offset those odds, however – not without air cover. Soon some planes roared overhead. The Brigadistas on the beach waved and cheered … they looked closer … Hey, WAIT a minute! Are those …? Run for COVER!!

Then they rocked from a massive blast in the bay behind them. A huge mushroom cloud rose. "Holy S**T!" one gasped. "Fidel’s got the A-Bomb too?!" No (not at that time anyway). But jet rockets hitting a ship laden with 10 days’ worth of ammo will do that. So Castro’s air force was NOT obliterated. What WAS obliterated were the Brigade’s ammo ships and control center. They were alone. What the hell was going on!?? Well, 80 per cent of the pre-invasion sorties by the Brigade planes from Nicaragua – the ESSENTIAL component of the plan, the measure to knock out Castro’s air force on the ground – had been canceled at the last moment by JFK. These air strikes were – you guessed it – "too noisy." Now the Brigade’s lumbering B-26s provided rollicking sport for Castro’s jets, and the troops and supplies below even more. It was a turkey shoot. Also: 50,000 Communist troops were massing for the counterattack. Squadrons of Stalin and T-34 tanks were revving their engines. A Soviet commander named Ceutah was issuing orders. Castro jets had the skies to themselves. All these forces were aiming at the abandoned Brigadistas, 1,400 of them, without the slightest hope of reinforcement or air cover. CIA man Grayston Lynch knew about the canceled air strikes by now and figured the men were doomed. "If things are really rough," he radiod Pepe, "we can come in and evacuate you." Remember when Col. Anthony Mc Auliffe got the word at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge? "Sir! Were completely surrounded by Panzer divisions!" Remember his reply? "Those poor bas***ds!" Pepe San Roman’s reply was close.

"We will NOT be evacuated!" Pepe roared back to Lynch. "We came here to FIGHT! Let it end HERE!"

(Tune in next week, friends. We’ll follow these men through their heroic battlefield ordeal, through their prison ordeal and, later, through their ample contribution to their adopted country.

We’ll see why Grayston Lynch (no slouch in heroism himself: Omaha Beach, the Bulge, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts) later wrote of his comrades: "They fought like TIGERS!" Why Marine Col. Jack Hawkins wrote: "They fought magnificently!" And why your humble servant here has written: "They wrote as glorious a chapter in military history and the annals of freedom as any you’d care to read."


Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in history from Tulane University. He's the author of "Helldiver's Rodeo," described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher's Weekly, "A must-read!" by Booklist, and "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent.

You may reach Mr. Fontova by e-mail at hfontova@earthlink.net.

Las credenciales específicas del columnista Humberto Fontova están descritas para información del lector en: http://www.amigospais-guaracabuya.org/g_fontova.html

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