Cover image for Bay of Pigs : an oral history of Brigade 2506
Bay of Pigs : an oral history of Brigade 2506
Triay, Victor Andres, 1966-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Gainesville : University Press of Florida, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 200 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
General Note:
"Brigada Asalto 2506."
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F1788 .T75 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



From the interviews:
"My [pregnant] wife once asked me, 'How is it possible you are not thinking of your child?' I told her, 'It is precisely because of that child and the two others I have here that I am going. I plan to return to my fatherland, and I don't want a Communist homeland.'"-- Jorge Marquet

"One of the sad things that has happened over this period in the history of Cuba is that historians have not given credit to the idealism of those who turned against the revolution. We were really full of good will and wanted to make Cuba better."--Eduardo Zayas-Baz#65533;n

"[A] feeling of duty to defend our faith was what motivated my husband . . . . What made me give my blessing to his activities were my own feelings of duty."-- Myrna Pardo Mill#65533;n (widowed by the invasion)

This is the story of the Bay of Pigs invasion, told for the first time in the words of the idealistic participants who came together in April 1961 to overthrow Fidel Castro's dictatorship. Most of the approximately 1,500 men of Brigade 2506 were captured by Castro's forces in Cuban swamps and jailed until December 1962. About 114 died.

Combining oral history and traditional narrative form, Victor Triay tells us who individual members of the brigade were and what they fought for. As one veteran, only eighteen at the time of the invasion, recalls, "It was my turn to do something for Cuba. Probably the purest thing I have ever done in my life was to make the decision to go." Triay describes the volunteers' recruitment, training, combat experience, and the wretched months of their imprisonment. He also presents the women they left behind, including three who were widowed by the invasion.

Among the nearly 2 million people in the U.S. Cuban community today, the freedom fighters who made up Brigade 2506 have always been accorded the highest level of respect. Bay of Pigs tells the personal stories of the invasion in an account that restores the human dimension to a pivotal moment in the history of the Cold War.

Victor Andres Triay, associate professor of history at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut, is the author of Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program (UPF, 1998). Triay, whose parents left Cuba in 1960, grew up in Miami, Florida. His essays and short stories have appeared in New to North America: Writings by Immigrants, Their Children, and Grandchildren and in other anthologies.



Chapter One It was my turn to do something for Cuba. Probably the purest thing I have ever done in my life was to make the decision to go. Rafael Montalvo, Second Battalion A CALL TO ARMS The initial U.S. decision to develop a contingency plan against Castro occurred in January 1960 during a meeting between CIA director Allen Dulles and President Dwight Eisenhower. The president, after listening to Dulles outline a plan to sabotage Cuban sugar refineries, asked the director to come back with an enlarged program. It clearly was time to move beyond a mere harassment of Castro. Consequently, the CIA established a special task force called WH/4 (Branch 4 of the Western Hemisphere) to come up with such a "program." Jack Esterline, the CIA chief in Venezuela, was recalled to lead the team. Meanwhile, the agency enlarged its contingent in Havana and opened a branch station in Miami. Overseeing the entire Cuba operation was Richard Mervin Bissell Jr., the CIA's deputy director for plans and the American whose name is most closely associated with the Bay of Pigs invasion. A Connecticut aristocrat and former Yale professor, he was renowned within the agency for his leadership skills and intellect. He had coordinated the program that produced the U-2 spy plane and was a rising star at the agency and the top candidate to replace the aging Allen Dulles.     Immediately following Eisenhower's January 1960 directive, WH/4 prepared an ambitious plan designed to overthrow the Cuban government; it was titled "A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime." It was approved several weeks later by the Special Group (a secret committee composed of the CIA director, representatives from the Departments of State and Defense, and the White House). A broad outline, it provided a blueprint for the planning that occurred over the next several months. The plan proposed to create a united Cuban political front in exile to serve as a visible opposition to Castro and as a body to which disaffected Cubans on the island could be loyal, to establish a broadcasting facility for a powerful propaganda offensive, to organize a "covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba," and to bring together a paramilitary force outside Cuba. The plan also called for "a small air supply capability under deep cover." On another front, the United States hoped to pressure Castro through economic sanctions imposed by the Organization of American States.     On March 17, the same day Castro rejected the attempted rapprochement through Finance Minister Rufo López Fresquet, President Eisenhower approved WH/4's program, now code-named Operation Pluto. At the meeting, which was attended by top administration officials, the president, according to Bissell, demonstrated his usual desire for "plausible deniability." He also insisted that, among the Cubans with whom the U.S. government was going to enter a partnership, both Batistianos (supporters of ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista) and Communists be excluded. In the late summer, President Eisenhower approved a $13 million budget as well as the use of Department of Defense personnel and equipment for the covert military effort.     To carry out the propaganda offensive, the CIA set up Cuban exiles to broadcast from Radio Swan, a powerful radio station on Greater Swan Island off the coast of Honduras which formerly had been used by the agency. The timing of the broadcast initiative was opportune, as the Castro regime already had shut down nearly all means of free expression in Cuba.     A far more daunting challenge for the United States was creating a unified political front from among the more politically astute--and often divided--exiles. By June 1960, the Frente Revolucionario Democrático [Democratic Revolutionary Front] was formed from among the leaders of different non- Batistiano , democratic Cuban groups represented in Miami. The original members included Manuel Antonio "Tony" de Varona, a former prime minister, senate president, and leader of the underground group Rescate. Varona also had been an active opponent of the Batista dictatorship, a leader in the Auténtico Party, and an early critic of Castro's failure to hold promised elections. Frente members Justo Carrillo and Manuel Artime once had been part of the Castro government but were alienated by the leader's turn to Communism. For his part, Artime became the leader of the exile faction of the Movimiento de Recuperación Revolucionaria [Revolutionary Recovery Movement, or MRR], the most significant underground movement on the island. He later became the Frente's representative with the military arm of the operation and the CIA's main link with the Cuban exiles. Former foreign minister Aureliano Sánchez Arango and Christian Democratic Movement leader José Ignacio Rasco rounded out the original group. Col. Martín Elena, a high-ranking officer in the Cuban Army, popular among democratic politicians for having given up his command to protest Batista's coup, was originally the Frente's head of military affairs. He resigned in February 1961 because of tensions over the level of American control over the operation. Sánchez Arango later resigned. In time, new members joined the ranks of the Frente.     Months later, Manuel Ray, a former Castro supporter who headed the formidable underground organization called the Movimiento Revolucionario del Pueblo [Peoples' Revolutionary Movement, or MRP], joined the group after a good deal of bickering with other Cuban political leaders in Miami who were quick to brand him a Communist. Also included was José Miró Cardona, a well-known liberal lawyer and Castro's first prime minister in 1959. Weeks before the April 17 invasion, Miró Cardona was chosen as Cuba's provisional president. At that point, the group changed its name to the Cuban Revolutionary Council; according to plan, it would act as Cuba's provisional government after Castro's ouster. In the weeks before the invasion, they were moved out of Miami's frenzied atmosphere and into New York City's Lexington Hotel.     The Americans found their Cuban partners to be contentious and fragmented--although some believe this may have been the result of deliberate U.S. efforts to keep them divided and thus easier to control. By the same token, Frente members were frustrated over the heavy-handedness of the United States in the operation designed to free their homeland. Some resented that their relationship with the United States was kept clandestine and that they had to work with an agent named Gerry Droller (code-named Frank Bender) who did not speak Spanish and knew nothing about Latin America. The CIA later sent Howard Hunt (code-named Eduardo), who was fluent in Spanish and more amiable, to help with the Cubans. Another source of tension was that the CIA managed all the finances; Frente leaders would have preferred a war loan and a formal alliance. Nevertheless, the Frente, composed of men who were well known on the island, in exile, and throughout Latin America, maintained its own intelligence network. All possessed impeccable democratic credentials and actively promoted Cuban democracy in international conferences throughout this period. The Frente's reliance on the U.S. government should not be misconstrued as a lack of will or of a sense of independence by its members but simply an unfortunate reality they had to tolerate in the short run.     One of the Frente's main tasks was to recruit men for the exile army and air force. Among the first recruits for the CIA's anti-Castro army were former Cuban military officers with no political connections to Batista. One group of young officers, approached by Manuel Artime in Miami, had been training in Florida and planning an expedition of their own in the spring of 1960. Some were suspicious at first because of Artime's former ties with the rebel army. Their misgivings also sprang in part from an earlier incident in which anti-Castro conspirators had approached two army majors, Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo and the U.S.-born William Morgan, to seek their support for a plot against the regime. The conspiracy was betrayed, and the counterrevolutionaries were delivered to Castro. Despite their initial skepticism, the officers went along with Artime after they confirmed that what he said was true. The young soldiers believed that anything backed by the U.S. government was certain to succeed.     The officers were taken to Useppa Island, off Florida's west coast. At Useppa, they met other early volunteers, many of whom were students from the Agrupación Católica Universitaria , a university Catholic student union that had opposed Batista and now was fighting actively against Castro. A devout Catholic himself, Artime was closely associated with the Agrupación . Other early recruits were from different student organizations as well as the various anti-Castro groups in Florida. Together, these clusters of men formed the cornerstone of the exile army that later would invade Cuba as Brigade 2506.     Tensions ran high at Useppa between the soldiers and students, as the latter were quick to brand any former military personnel as Batistianos . Such resentments, left over from the Batista era, continued later in the training camps. After extensive testing, a part of the Useppa group was sent to a training base in the Panama Canal Zone to receive guerrilla instruction and to be trained as a cadre for the liberation army. The rest remained on Useppa for a radio communications course. The military plan, as it stood at the time, called for the training of a small guerrilla force schooled in the finer points of sabotage, communications, and infiltration. The group would train others and eventually ignite a guerrilla war in Cuba. Cuban pilots, both military and civilian, were likewise recruited for the exile air force.     The CIA also busied itself with establishing links to democratic underground groups in Cuba. The most important of these was Artime's MRR. Having been composed originally of former rebel army officers, it had expanded and developed important links to other resistance groups throughout Cuba. By the spring of 1960, it was the best organized Castro opposition. In Cuba itself, the MRR was headed by Rogelio González Corzo, code-named Francisco, a twenty-seven-year-old who had served as director of agriculture in 1959. The organization remained the CIA's "chief hope" for a long while. During this period, Cuban exiles also were actively running guns to their partners on the island in daring maritime operations.     The CIA, meanwhile, because of State Department opposition to using U.S. territory for training the Cubans, secured the use of a 5,000-acre coffee plantation in the mountains near the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Named Helvetia and owned by Roberto Alejos, the brother of Guatemala's ambassador to the United States, it began receiving Cuban liberation fighters during the summer of 1960. Soon afterward, plans were laid out for a more expansive camp near Helvetia called Base Trax. By that time, an airport designed to train Cuban exile pilots was nearing completion in neighboring Retalhuleu. The first Cuban commander at Trax was a young officer named Oscar Alfonso Carol.     Throughout the fall of 1960, tensions between Havana and Washington increased. News of the "secret" training bases in Central America had hit the press. As Cuba's mission at the United Nations blasted the United States for conspiring against the island nation's government, CIA-trained exile pilots flew missions over Cuba (mostly unsuccessful) to drop supplies for the guerrilla fighters in the Escambray Mountains. The U.S. presidential campaign was also in full swing. Facing each other were Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Republican, and Senator John F. Kennedy, Democrat. Kennedy seized on the Cuba issue in an effort to dispel the notion that he was weak on Communism. Accusing the Eisenhower administration, and thereby Nixon, of ignoring the Castro threat, the Kennedy camp released a statement to the press: "We must attempt to strengthen the non-Batista democratic anti-Castro forces in exile, and in Cuba itself, who offer eventual hope of overthrowing Castro.... Thus far, these fighters for freedom have had virtually no support from our government." Little did Kennedy's people know just how involved the government, including his opponent, had been in helping the "fighters for freedom." During a speech in Tennessee, Kennedy stated, "Those who say they will stand up to Khrushchev have not demonstrated any ability to stand up to Mr. Castro." In part to protect the operation, Nixon accused Kennedy of recklessness and publicly advocated a "quarantine" of the island.     Just prior to the presidential election, Operation Pluto's military plan underwent a fundamental change. The CIA shifted away from the idea of a guerrilla infiltration to that of a large-scale amphibious assault. The immediate goal became the capture of a beachhead on the island from which further operations could be launched. Various reasons for the change included the difficulties the effort already had encountered with infiltration and resupply, the capture and execution of key members of the underground, and the obstacles inherent in maintaining an underground network because of the Castro regime's growing control over the civilian population through the use of informants and block-by-block vigilance groups. The most important reason, however, was the need for an immediate and devastating blow against the Castro regime to counteract the amount of weaponry it began receiving from East Bloc countries. Soviet MiGs were expected within months.     Recruiting for the exile army was interrupted temporarily in November 1960. A revolt by the Guatemalan army, which was brought down in part by strafing Brigade planes, forced the CIA to consider alternative training sites. In the end, they chose to stay. In December, a group of the Brigade's leaders visited Miami to stimulate enlistment and to eliminate the delays that potential recruits had been encountering. In addition, more men would be necessary for a frontal assault.     As the basic structure of the operation was put into place, Cuban men arrived in Miami with the determination to join the effort against Castro. Most of them had supported Batista's ouster but felt the revolution had been betrayed by Castro's establishment of yet another dictatorship--this one even more oppressive and with a totalitarian, Communist orientation. Feeling a duty to prevent a Communist takeover and spurred on by patriotism and religious zeal, many chose to fight, often seeking out organizations such as the MRR, the Christian Democrats, the Auténtico Organization (OA), Rescate, and numerous other groups of all shapes and sizes. Many were encouraged by their organizations to join the "camps" (nobody referred to it as the Brigade at the time) where the liberation army, the military arm of the Frente, was being trained. Many others, perhaps most, were inspired to join as a result of the Frente's recruiting efforts or because of encouragement from friends. That the Frente was composed of men with unquestionable democratic track records and not Batistianos was a source of comfort for many--especially some of the more idealistic students. Solid assurances of U.S. backing also played a major role in overcoming any doubts the recruits may have had, since the United States never had lost a war. With the memory of World War II still fresh, the United States was perceived as a strong and loyal ally. Most had come to the conclusion that outright military action was the only way Castro could be ousted--as no legal means for opposition existed on the island. In addition, the need for military action was seen as becoming even greater because Castro was bolstering his grip on power and protecting his dictatorship with military aid from the Communist bloc.     The enlistment process for many of the recruits began with a visit to the offices of the Frente, where they were registered and processed. They later were run through psychological and physical exams. On the day they were assigned to leave for the training camps, most of the men were dropped off at one of the Frente's offices by family or friends. Some came alone. After saying their good-byes, they were checked in, given some gear, and taken to Opa-Locka airport, near Miami. The trucks in which they traveled were sealed to prevent them from seeing where they were being taken. Then they were put aboard airplanes with windows covered with tape for the same reason. Most of the men took the process in stride, as the Americans seemed to know what they were doing. At some point in the process, each man received his Brigade serial number. The numbers began at 2501 in order to give possible Castro informants the impression that the group was much larger than it actually was. The members of the Brigade air force were assigned numbers counting backward from 2500.     The exile army eventually chose the name Brigade 2506, in commemoration of a young man named Carlos Rodriguez Santana, nicknamed Carlyle, who had died in an accident during the early training period and whose serial number had been 2506. The approximately 1,700 men who ultimately passed through the Frente's offices and joined the Brigade represented a cross section of Cuba. University students made up the largest single group, accounting for 240 of the men. Only about 135 men had ever been soldiers before joining the Brigade, and very few were true Batistianos before the revolution. Although blue-collar workers, fishermen, and small farmers were among its ranks, the Brigade contained a disproportionate number of educated middle-class men and even a handful from the upper class. It included the sons of the Frente's José Miró Cardona, Tony Varona, and Antonio Maceo (the physician designated to be health minister after the invasion and the grandson of Cuba's great Afro-Cuban independence leader of the same name). It included four Catholic priests, a Protestant minister, numerous professionals, and Cuba's former ambassador to Japan. Fifty Brigade men were Afro-Cubans, and many more were mulatto; the majority, however, were white. Their ages ranged from sixteen to sixty-one, but most were in their twenties and thirties. A large number had children, and there were even siblings and some father-and-son pairs among the men.     Consistent with the characteristics of the island's middle to upper classes, many of the Brigade's men felt a tight kinship to the United States. It was not uncommon for some to have gone to American schools--Catholic and otherwise--in Cuba or the United States or to have studied at U.S. colleges or universities. A number of them spoke English in addition to their native Spanish. Some, however, especially the students, were angry because they suspected that their American allies were calling all the shots and bypassing the authority of the Frente, which they considered the leader of the military component and the representative of democratic ideals. Yet whatever tension may have existed, accepting help from the Americans to overthrow the Havana government did not conflict with the Brigade members' own strong sense of Cuban independence and nationalism. They and other exiles saw the war as being waged against a puppet regime of international Communism which had manipulated the political upheaval in their country to establish a base in the Americas. Despite their occasional chagrin over the Americans' authority over the enterprise as well as the secrecy that surrounded their mission, they viewed themselves as allies of the greatest democratic power on earth in the most important struggle of their day.     Whatever the political tensions, the men of the Brigade embraced their cause with fervor and a great sense of bravado. It was both significant and unusual that the rank-and-file soldier was so politically astute and that so many were highly educated--often more so than their American trainers. All were volunteers and well aware of the cause for which they risked their lives. The depth of their patriotism and love for Cuba, as well as their democratic principles, served as their primary motivation. Moreover, the anti-Castro and anti-Communist ideology of the time had a profound religious component. Although the Brigade and other anti-Castro elements in Cuba and in exile certainly included Protestants and Jews (many of whom were fairly prominent), they were, for the most part, Roman Catholics. Many of the Brigade's earliest members were associated with activist Catholic movements, especially organizations like the Agrupación Católica Universitaria . The regime's anti-Catholic rhetoric and actions, as well as the prospect of a totalitarian Communist society characterized by state-mandated atheism, was enough to spur such people, as well as any liberal who valued religious freedom, to action. (Continues...) Excerpted from BAY OF PIGS by Victor Andres Triay. Copyright © 2001 by Board of Regents of the State of Florida. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.