Now Che could taunt the (safely captured and disarmed) freedom-fighters, including Manel Menendez who parachuted into the inferno of Soviet firepower known as the Bay of Pigs and ripped into the Communists to his very last bullet, helping his band of-brothers inflict casualties of 20-1 against their Soviet-led and-armed enemies. During dinner with your humble servant here many years later, Manel described Che's visit. "We'd all run out of ammo and been captured and herded into an enclosure," he recalls. "And so who finally shows up--it’s Che Guevara himself! He approached us strutting and sneering as usual. He strutted up and looked around with that famous sneer of his. Then he started snickering. Many of us were wounded, but one of our guys faced him down and said, "Well I guess you'll send us all to the paredón (firing squad) now, right, Che?"
"No!" Che snapped. "No paredón. We're gonna hang all of you—and slowly! The firing squad's too good for you."
"I was standing close to Che at the time," recalls Señor Menendez, "and got a close-up of his face when he was talking. It was plain from the way his eyes lit up that the man was sick, mentally ill, a bona-fide sadist. Sure, most military commanders or some wartime leaders -- Patton, Chesty Puller, Winston Churchill, whatever -- bad-mouth and taunt enemy soldiers. But that's during combat, to get the troops fired up for the kill, etc. Here, the combat was over. We were uniformed adversaries, but completely disarmed. So look, don't even ask me what I think when I see him on a T-shirt, or when I see him presented as some kinda military genius!"
Shortly after this visit, Che took a bullet, which pierced his chin and exited above his temple, just missing his brain. The scar is visible in all post-April '61 pictures of the gallant Che (the picture we see on posters and T-shirts was shot a year earlier).
Did one of the freedom-fighters hide a pistol? Did he decide: “Well, I’m a goner for sure. But at least I’m taking this swine down with me!”
Nothing of the sort. The bullet came from Che’s own pistol when he either dropped it or accidently hit the trigger while blustering and waving it under his chin.
“Che’s contribution to the Bay of Pigs victory was crucial,” writes Che hagiographer Jorge Castaneda, also a new York Times contributor and Columbia, Princeton and Harvard visiting Professor. “Che's military leadership was permeated by an indomitable will that permitted extraordinary feats."
“Extraordinary” is certainly one way of putting it.
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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