[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Bay of Pigs - 45 Years Later

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bay of Pigs - 45 Years Later

April 17th is the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. An invasion which cost the lives of many Cubans of Brigade 2506, as well as the possibility for Cuba's freedom. It also helped set the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.

Frankly, I don't have a direct connection to anyone who fought in that battle, so I can't provide any personal accounts passed down from a friend or relative who was there. I also never totally understood the true magnitude of that battle and the failure of the United States to provide the necessary air support. Most accounts you hear or read about in the media or learn in school are watered down and lacking in detail. This all changed after I read Humberto Fontova's book Fidel - Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant, particularly the chapter on the invasion.

Much has been said of John F. Kennedy's betrayal of the Brigade forces on the ground in Cuba, but what really gave me the biggest impression regarding the Bay of Pigs were the odds that Brigade 2506 faced, as well as the personal stories of four American pilots who decided to help their Cuban partners.

Fontova mentions that Brigade 2506 was outnumbered by Cuban troops by almost 40 to 1! Two-to-one, or three-to-one are staggering enough odds, but forty-to-one? Nevertheless, it took the Soviet-backed Cuban forces three entire days to defeat a group of 2,000 men, and this was only after they ran out of ammunition. If only Kennedy would have provided the air support as he had promised, there would have been no Missile Crisis, no brutal dictator 90 miles to our south, and no author of this post (my parents met in the U.S.).

Kennedy's decision not to engage angered many of the Navy trainers who worked with the Brigade before the battle. Four of the trainers decided to go anyway. Their names are Thomas "Pete" Ray, Riley Shamburger, Leo Baker and Wade Gray, and they were officers in the Alabama Air Guard. Against steep odds, they decided to stick with their fellow combatants. All four died on their first missions.

Loyalty and determination to do the right thing cost them their lives, but in the minds of many Cuban-Americans and freedom-lovers everywhere, they are immortal.


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