A news story last month focused on the failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro and the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, 45 years ago. Here is my story of the perfidious performance by the United States in not fulfilling promised obligations to others.
It begins on April 15, 1961. A U.S. aircraft carrier was on station 30 miles south of the Bay of Pigs; its four escort destroyers were already shelling the beach. We were supposed to support the invasion by air and sea. The invasion force, four deep-draft ships coming from a staging area in Nicaragua, were poorly suited to the shallow Bay of Pigs.
We had Cuban leaders on board. We had eaten with them, we had laughed with them. We became friends.
The carrier had three attack squadrons: two Skyhawk squadrons and one Sky Raider squadron, accompanied by a radar plane detachment and helicopters. The squadrons were going to attack previously briefed and designated areas, based on CIA information and some information from the Cubans on board. A radar plane was to be launched to provide continuous information as airborne control if necessary.
The launch was to begin. The jets were up on the forward catapults. All was ready. Then the word was passed from Primary Flight Control that they had just received word that we could not support the invasion. We were told that President Kennedy said the political climate in Washington was such that we would have to abort our help.
We cried. How could we do this?
We would launch. No targets would be attacked. We would avoid any combat situations and return at our normal recovery time, 4.6 hours for the radar plane [in which the letter-writer flew]. We stayed in the air longer to assure there would be no air attack catching us unaware.
We returned to the ship. The destroyers were recalled and we left the area immediately, leaving the invasion force undefended. We saw one of the invasion force ships beached and burning.
The next day, the 16th, Castro’s forces attacked, sinking or beaching the remaining invasion force ships, capturing or killing many of the troops. A few were able to escape to the mountains to the east.
Final word from the Cubans or the beach: “You Son of a Bitch Quitters. We will fight on to the death.” They did!
Philip W. Shoemaker
Capt., U.S. Navy (Ret.)