The other Bay of Pigs story
Fifty-five years ago, my parents and lots of other Cubans woke up to "la invasion," or the invasion that most of us expected and were ready for. There were groups in Cuba who had been fighting Castro, from sabotage to confronting the regime block by block.
This is about The Bay of Pigs, an event that most people have forgotten unless you're a Cuban of my parents' generation or someone like them who was impacted by it.
The plans for the invasion were passed on to new president Kennedy by the outgoing Eisenhower administration.
The men who invaded Cuba were primarily refugees trained by the CIA in Nicaragua. They adopted the name of Brigade 2506 in honor of a member killed accidentally during training exercises. The veterans of the brigade have a museum in Miami, a reminder to the young about the men who were willing to fight and remove communism from the island.
The politically correct explanation is that the invasion failed because Cubans did not rise up against Castro. Actually, it failed because the total plan was never carried out, and the men were left stranded, as Michael Sullivan wrote:
The invasion force, with four supply ships, landed at dawn, with a strength of 1,400 men. Initially things looked promising, American planes struck at Cuban air force bases and destroyed Cuban planes on the ground.
However, the tide quickly turned on the insurgents.
President Kennedy, anxious to cover up America's role, inexplicably called off all American air support, leaving the rebels stranded on the beach.
Cuban army and militia units, organized by Castro himself, swarmed the invasion site to block the rebels from gaining the interior of the island.
The Cuban Air Force rallied to strafe the landing site and the supply ships moored in the bay.
One ship sank and the remaining three barely made it out to sea.
Without resupply or air support, the men of 2506 Assault Brigade managed to hold out for two days, until nearly all were either killed or captured by pro-Castro forces. When the smoke cleared, 114 died and 1,189 languished in Cuban prisons.
There they remained for 22 months, until the Kennedy administration paid more than $50 million in food, medicine and cash for their release.
The accusations flew around Washington, as well as Havana, in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs and an administration struggled to retain its credibility.
It was a bad day, and many Cubans were thrown in jail after that.
It was a worse day for the credibility of the Kennedy administration. He was confronted by Mr. Khrushchev in Vienna and challenged in Southeast Asia. He left Vienna a very frustrated man after being pushed around by the Soviet leader, as Frederick Kempe wrote:
As he drove away from the Soviet embassy with Secretary of State Dean Rusk in his black limo, Kennedy banged the flat of his hand against the shelf beneath the rear window. Rusk had been shocked that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had used the word "war" during their acrimonious exchange about Berlin's future, a term diplomats invariably replaced with any number of less alarming synonyms.
Despite all the president's pre-summit briefings, Rusk felt Kennedy had been unprepared for Khrushchev's brutality. The extent of Vienna Summit's failure would not be as easy to measure as the Bay of Pigs fiasco six weeks earlier. There would be no dead, CIA-supported exile combatants in a misbegotten landing area, who had risked their lives on the expectation that Kennedy and the United States would not abandon them.
However, the consequences could have be even bloodier. A little more than two months after Vienna, the Soviet would oversee the construction of the Berlin Wall. That, in turn, would be followed in October 1962 by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Already in Vienna Kennedy was distraught that Khrushchev, assuming that he was weak and indecisive, might engage in the sort of "miscalculation" that could lead to the threat of nuclear war. He didn't know then that his prediction would become prophesy.
Over the years, I have personally spoken to many of the veterans of Brigade 2506. Like my parents, they started their new lives in the U.S., and many served in the U.S. military. Every one of them tells me the mission would have succeeded if the plan had been carried out.
The lesson of The Bay of Pigs is simple. Presidential weakness, and confusion, has consequences way beyond the event in question.
God bless the men of Brigade 2506. They are heroes in my book.