“Where are the planes?” kept crackling over U.S. Navy radios 50 years ago. The U.S. Naval armada (22 ships including the Carrier Essex loaded with deadly Skyhawk jets) was sitting 16 miles off the Cuban coast near an inlet known as Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs.) The question—bellowed between blasts from a Soviet artillery and tank barrage landing around him--came from commander, Pepe San Roman, who led an amphibious force of 1500 Cuban freedom-fighters.
“Send planes or we can’t last!” San Roman kept pleading to the very fleet that escorted his men to the beachhead (and sat much closer to them than the Sixth Fleet sits to the Libyan coast today). Meanwhile the barrage intensified, the Soviet T-34 and Stalin tanks closed in, and San Roman’s casualties pile up.
"If things get rough," the heartsick CIA man Grayston Lynch, a multi-decorated WWII and Korea vet, radioed back, "we can come in and evacuate you."
"We will NOT be evacuated!" Pepe roared back to his friend Lynch. "We came here to fight! We don't want evacuation! We want more ammo! We want PLANES! This ends here!" Lynch kept sending the requests Washington-ward with all of San Roman’s urgency.
Along with the Bay of Pigs freedom fighters, Castro faced 179 bands of “bandits” (Che Guevara’s term for the tens of thousands of Cubans fighting his dutiful Stalinization of Cuba that year, a rebel force probably greater than Gadaffi faces today -- and with goals much clearer). But San Roman’s and Lynch’s urgency to Washington was futile.
Camelot’s criminal idiocy finally brought Adm. Arleigh Burke of the Joints Chief of Staff, who was receiving the battlefield pleas, to the brink of mutiny. Years before, Adm. Burke sailed thousands of miles to smash his nation's enemies at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Now he was Chief of Naval Operations and stood aghast as new enemies were being given a sanctuary 90 miles away! The fighting admiral was livid. They say his face was beet red and his facial veins popping as he faced down his commander-in-chief that fateful night of April 18, 1961. "Mr. President, TWO planes from the Essex!" (the U.S. Carrier just offshore from the beachhead), "that's all those Cuban boys need, Mr. President. Let me order...!"
JFK was in white tails and a bow tie that evening, having just emerged from an elegant social gathering. "Burke," he replied. "We can't get involved in this."
"WE put those Cuban boys there, Mr. President!" The fighting admiral exploded. "By God, we ARE involved!" While the Knights of Camelot mulled over their image problems, the men on the beachhead had problems of their own...
Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of four books including his latest, The Longest Romance; The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro. For more information and for video clips of his Television and college speaking appearances please visit www.hfontova.com.
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