Bay of Pigs Vets Fight for Home

Betrayed by the U.S. government and their own country, they want to be remembered.

About 200 meters from the landing spot, the frogmen and Lynch left the catamaran behind and boarded a rubber raft. Then they smacked into the sharp coral. The frogmen cursed and began pushing the raft to shore. Suddenly a light in the boat accidentally switched on. A Jeep appeared on the beach.

¡Coño! whispered Eduardo and the others.

The Jeep turned and flashed its headlights toward the frogmen, now waist-deep in the water and some 40 yards from shore.

Eduardo Zayas-Bazán spent more than two decades working on a fictional book based on his time as a frogman.
Andrzej Sobieski
Eduardo Zayas-Bazán spent more than two decades working on a fictional book based on his time as a frogman.
Blas Casares, a frogman, questioned President John F. Kennedy about why he pulled American support for the 1,400 exile fighters.
Andrzej Sobieski
Blas Casares, a frogman, questioned President John F. Kennedy about why he pulled American support for the 1,400 exile fighters.

"Fire!" shouted Lynch, who emptied his Browning automatic rifle into the Jeep. The frogmen followed his lead. Once the headlights were extinguished, the frogmen and Lynch moved slowly toward the beach. They found a man dead there. Eduardo, a combat virgin, sensed a copper taste in his mouth. He believed it was fear.

"No one wants to see anyone die," Eduardo says. "We would have loved to clear the beach when no one was there."

The landing of the Cuban exile force was no longer a surprise; the frogmen were the first to land and the first to fire in the invasion.

Minutes later, militiamen from the village and the Blagar traded fire as the frogmen ducked for cover. Ten minutes later, the shots slowed and an eerie early-morning calm set in. Crewmen on the Blagar summoned Lynch back to the ship to receive this message from Washington: "Expect you will be under air attack at first light. Unload all the men and supplies and take the ships to sea."

After a pair of landing craft carrying dozens more fighters hit the coral reef, the full landing of brigade troops was pushed back to daylight. The coral would be easier to navigate at low tide. Around 7 a.m., as the brigade trudged through the water, Castro's planes opened fire. Rockets sunk one of the brigade's ships, the Río Escondido. Soldiers quickly steered rubber boats to rescue the crew before the vessel exploded.

"The landing was really a fiasco," Felipe Silva says. "In light, the planes were on top of us and shooting at us."

Lynch radioed Amado Cantillo, who was in a rubber boat, to pick him up. He told the remaining frogmen to stay on the beach and promised to return with supplies. That night the frogmen paced along the sand. It flashed in Eduardo's mind that they might be stranded.

The next night, Eduardo was among those who steered a rubber boat miles out to sea. By radio, they desperately pleaded for support. "Where are you? We need to contact you."

"Ammunition was all we needed," Chiqui Llama says. "We blamed Kennedy. I think Kennedy was yellow."

Cantillo stayed aboard the Blagar. "I will never forgive myself for not going back to help those guys, but it was not up to me. I follow orders."

American jets flew overhead during the battle but left without firing a shot.

On April 19, Eduardo took a bullet in the knee. Later that day, after the plane left without wounded passengers, Felipe Silva was shot in the left elbow by a fellow soldier. "We could see [American destroyers] on the horizon!" he says. "All our thoughts were that they were going to come in and pick us up."

But they didn't; the destroyers turned around.

Brigade Cmdr. Pepe San Román, stationed at Girón Beach, desperately radioed for U.S. support. Casares quietly copied the heaps of communiqués being sent from San Román to the Blagar on notebook paper. (Casares, now 67 years old, still has the papers. "It was history," he says. "This was proof of what happened at the Bay of Pigs.")

One of the communiqués reads, "To Base: Do you people realize how desperate the situation is.... Do you back us up or quit. All we need is low jet air cover and close support. Enemy has this support. I need it badly or cannot survive. Please don't desert us."

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 19, San Román sent a desperate message to Lynch on the Blagar and then to Washington: "Fighting on beach. Send all available aircraft now! In water, out of ammunition. Enemy closing in."

Later he said, "I can't wait any longer. I am destroying my radio."

The radio clicked dead. The frogmen decided to stay together and surrender. They handed their weapons to soldiers who were fleeing into nearby swamps. The beach fell into chaos. There was no escape. "Everybody was out for themselves," Felipe Silva says. "That was the end."

That the able-bodied frogmen chose not to leave their wounded comrades, "that was the most beautiful part," Eduardo says.


Later that day, the radio in a 1956 Buick cruising along a road near Cuba's southern coast was tuned to Radio Swan, a 50-kilowatt station based on a tiny island off Honduras. The CIA had covertly constructed the station to spread anti-Castro propaganda to Cuba beginning in May 1960.

An announcer boldly proclaimed the Miami exiles were victorious and Ché Guevara was dead.

What a travesty of truth, thought Eduardo, disgusted as he watched the road pass from the Buick's back seat. Beside him was another wounded brigade fighter, Rolando Toll, whose body was seared by shrapnel. Eduardo's mind drifted from the dull pain of his leg to the uncertainty that he would live beyond this day.

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