What You May Not Know about the Bay of Pigs Invasion
President John F. Kennedy’s leadership skills were tested in the early 1960’s when tensions were at an all-time high between the United States and Cuba; a situation that began when Fidel Castro took over as the country’s leader in 1959. Taking place from April 17th through 19th of 1961, the failed military invasion of the island nation, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, set the tone for increased hostile relations with Cuba that led to involvement from the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, it was Castro’s increased ties with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War that inspired the actions that led to the attempted invasion. Here’s what you may not know about what went down.
The Group That Led the Invasion Took Its Name from a Fallen Comrade
Part of the plan for the invasion of Cuba was to train Cuban exiles living in Miami. Including former Cuban military officers, the brigade trained in the Florida Everglades in early 1960 before moving to Guatemala for further training. In September of that year, one of the group’s members, Carlos Rodriguez Santana, died in a training accident. The remaining brigade members decided to honor him by using his serial number, 2506, as the name of their group.
A Fake Defection of Cuban Pilots Failed to Provide Cover for the Operation
By early 1961, there were rumors of U.S. plans to make an effort to attack Cuba. The new Kennedy administration denied any involvement. But suspicions of U.S. involvement grew instead, after an attempt to send two bombers with Cuban defectors to the Key West and Miami backfired. It all started with eight bombers who flew from Nicaragua to launch an attack on Cuba before being “caught” and exposed. However, reporters were suspicious of the defectors’ story when they noticed some unusual things about their planes: they weren’t the kind usually used in Cuba and it didn’t look like the guns had been fired.
Four Americans Were Killed Even Though None Were ‘Officially’ Involved in the Invasion
In April of 1961, a squadron of American pilots headed to Cuba on a secret bombing mission. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with the time zones and they arrived an hour early and had no cover from another squadron. Four Americans died, but the U.S. government died any involvement, even with the Cuban government claiming it had the body of one of the pilots. The Castro-led government returned Captain Thomas Willard “Pete” Ray’s body in 1979, but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the CIA even acknowledged the mission.
The Cuban Government Used the Captured Brigade Members to Get Tractors, Food, Medicine, and Cash from the U.S.
After the failed invasion, the Cuban government held the surviving pilots as prisoners. Fidel Castro used the prisoners as a bargaining tool. His demands initially included a shipment of 500 tractors. He soon upped his requests to include nearly $30 million in cash along with food and medicine. The U.S. government raised the money through private donations and the prisoners were returned near the end of the year. They received a heroes’ welcome at the Orange Bowl in Miami soon after getting back on U.S. soil.
Cuban Revolution Leader Che Guevara Thanked President Kennedy for the Invasion Attempt
During a chance meeting with Richard Goodwin, President Kennedy’s speechwriter, at a gathering of American nations in Uruguay, Cuban revolution leader Che Guevara expressed his thanks to the president for his effort to invade Cuba. Goodwin detailed the encounter in a memo that was declassified in the ’90s. Guevara reportedly told Goodwin he viewed the failed invasion as a “great political victory” for the Cuban people. He claimed it inspired him and those leading the revolution to unite and consolidate.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion, while a failure, set the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was during this tense thirteen-day period in the fall of 1962 that the United States and Cuba truly clashed in a conflict that brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of war. And Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev openly acknowledged that his motivation for placing nuclear missiles directly on land in Cuba was the failed invasion. Today, relations with Cuba have been reestablished. Even so, a similar government remains in power with Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, now overseeing things in a country still plagued by oppression.