WASHINGTON, D.C.
{04-17-2016
 

WHY DID THE ASSAULT BRIGADE 2506 GIVE ITS FLAG TO PRESIDENT KENNEDY FOR SAFEKEEPING?
 
By: ERNEIDO A. OLIVA, Maj. Gen. (DCNG-Ret.) – Former Second in Command of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and former Deputy Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard.

 


On December 22, 1962, ALMOST ALL THE members of Brigade 2506 were allowed to leave Cuba because the United States government had paid the ransom demanded by FIDEL Castro for our freedom.

The day before before we left Cuba’s San Antonio Air Force Base, Fidel Castro took the time to visit privately with the Brigade's three leaders: Dr. Manuel Artime (Civilian leader), José Pérez San Roman (the Brigade Commander) and me (the Second in Command). His goodbye included not only another strong admonishment for what we had done, something that we had heard multiple times during our captivity, but it was also accompanied this time with a personal assurance that if we ever dared return to the island, we would be shot immediately, on the spot. Our departure was actually delayed by eight hours until the 1.5 million dollars in cash demanded as a ransom for the three leaders ($500,000 for each) had been deposited in Fidel Castro’s personal bank account in New York City. Thanks to the personal actions taken by the then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Castro’s demand was satisfied during a weekend, when all the banks were closed.

When we finally landed at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, I had barely placed a foot on free soil when an American came running toward me saying that someone on a base phone wanted to talk with me immediately. I was wondering who would be so anxious to speak to me because my wife, Graciela, was still in Cuba with my young daughter María. When I answered the phone, Robert F. Kennedy, the President’s brother, was on the other end of the line. He warmly welcomed me to the United States and said that in the following days we would be talking about topics of great importance to both of us.

When Artime, San Roman and I met with Robert Kennedy two days later in Washington, D.C., he informed us about the paramilitary operations he was personally leading to overthrow the Castro regime. His presentation made us quickly forget about the dictator’s farewell threats and prompted us to start working on another opportunity to fight for the liberation of our native land. Kennedy mentioned to us that the plans for the operation that we later learned was called “Operation Mongoose," were already being implemented. He wanted to make sure that we, the leaders of the Brigade, were included in the planning and execution phases. Operation Mongoose had been approved by President John F. Kennedy in November 1961, only six months after the Bay of Pigs invasion. The declassified “Guidelines for Operation Mongoose" established two very important points: “(a) in undertaking the overthrow of the Castro government, the U.S. will make maximum use of indigenous resources, internal and external, but recognizes that final success will require decisive U.S. military intervention. (b) Such indigenous resources as are developed, will be used to prepare for and justify this intervention, and thereafter to facilitate and support it."

During the days after our meeting with Robert Kennedy, the three Brigade leaders spent long hours in Washington and Miami discussing the operational plans presented to us. We finally, unanimously, concluded that for the sake of our homeland we had to forget our bitter disappointments with President John F. Kennedy and the lack of promised air support and needed to accept the new opportunity that was being offered. We expressed our deep desire to ensure that all members of the Brigade could participate, if they so desire, in the operations against the Cuban Communist government. We also agreed to follow the counsel of one of our new American friends not to share the confidential information received with any one, not even with our families or closest friends in the Brigade.

To show the President that we had made a firm decision to cooperate, as well as to assure him of our eagerness to fight again for Cuba’s liberation, Manuel Artime suggested that we publicly present President Kennedy with our Brigade flag as a symbolic gesture. We decided that I would make the presentation of the flag at the conclusion of Perez San Roman’s brief salutation remarks. When we informed the Attorney General of our decision, White House officials immediately began preparing for what culminated in an extraordinary ceremony in the Orange Bowl that was attended by the entire Brigade and thousands of Cuban exiles. It was there that I presented the Brigade flag to President Kennedy and said: "Mr. President, the men of the Brigade 2506 give you our banner; we temporarily deposit it with you for safekeeping." The President then unfolded the flag, paused a few seconds, and in a voice filled with emotion declared: “Commander, I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this Brigade in a free Havana."

During the weeks that followed, we received information from numerous individuals in the government and most importantly, directly from Robert Kennedy, indicating that Operation Mongoose was failing to achieve its goal and it had been replaced for a new covert effort against Castro. We received assurances that the new operation had the highest priority and that the Administration was committed to the liberation of Cuba. We also learned that hundreds of Americans and Cuban exiles were already involved and that dozens of psychological and paramilitary operations had already been conducted against the Communist regime. We felt that this time, victory, would be the only outcome.

In January 1963, Artime and I met with Robert Kennedy at his McLean’s residence. He commented that we looked strong, energetic and fully recovered from our tough time in prison and told us that the hour had arrived for us to join the U.S. military operations against Cuba. Artime would be given enough financial support to begin paramilitary and psychological operations from another countries, he affirmed, and I would be allowed to train and organize the necessary conventional forces within the U.S. Armed Forces to achieve the ultimate goal set by the President. Two months later, Artime departed for Nicaragua with hundreds of men. I went to Fort Benning, Georgia with 207 Brigade members who had been commissioned as U.S. army, air force and navy officers. 500 additional Brigade members were already at Fort Jackson, Georgia, where they joined thousands of Cuban volunteers who had already enlisted in the U.S. Army during the missile crisis of the previous October.

The President announced the acceptance of the Brigade members into the U.S. armed forces in a January's press conference when he appointed me as the Representative of all Cuban-Americans enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. All these incredibly fast moving events happened following what was a widely held belief that the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, had reached a firm agreement not to invade Cuba after the missile crisis. Academicians, reporters, historians and some Cuban-Americans had blamed the supposedly signed Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement for the cancellation of all military actions against Castro after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. I can say, as a participant and  first hand witness that the mentioned agreement was not taken into consideration at that time, Robert Kennedy, with the approval of his brother, was determined to continue his efforts to liberate Cuba at all cost.

As to all the Americans, the assassination of the President on November 22, 1963 came as a tremendous shock to me. I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma working with another Cuban officer assigned to that military base on a plan to organize a Cuban infantry brigade within the U.S. Army when I heard the sad news. Our Brigade officers had been already dispersed to different U.S. military bases. I didn’t realize at first that as a result of the assassination of President Kennedy our plans, efforts and dreams for a free Cuba were about to be ended. On January 14, 1964, it was new President Lyndon B. Johnson who at the White House and in front of Robert Kennedy advised me of his decision to immediately stop all activities against Cuba. I then had to relate the devastating news to all Cuban exile personnel wearing an American military uniform. Castro certainly profited from that criminal act in Dallas.

Alexander M. Haig, an army general who later became Secretary of State, made the first public reference to my participation in “Operation Mongoose" in his book entitled “Inner Circles." During the time of the operation Haig was a lieutenant colonel and special assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Cyrus Vance, who was closely coordinating the Pentagon's Cuban operations with me. In his book Haig wrote: "This was an extraordinary statement (President Kennedy's words at the Orange Bowl) coming from the man who had left the Brigade to its fate when he alone had the power to save it. No doubt he meant what he said at the moment.” Operation Mongoose was authorized by President Kennedy in the wake of the Bay of Pigs “many in the Orange Bowl that night must have been aware of its existence." "The American people knew nothing about it." “Thirteen raids into Cuba were approved for the three-month period beginning in November 1963, the last month of the Kennedy presidency. With the authorization of Vance and the advice of Erneido Oliva, among others, I processed the decisions, handing them on to representatives of the CIA for execution by their operatives in the field."

Finally, I hope that members of the Brigade 2506 and the general public realize that the fault for fifty-five years of dictatorship in Cuba should not fall solely on the shoulders of John F. Kennedy. It is a fact that our defeat at the Bay of Pigs consolidated the Castro regime. But it also needs to be realized that President Kennedy and his brother wanted to continue the fight to remove the tyrant from power. After President Kennedy, ten presidents, Republicans and Democrats, have followed him (I had the honor of meeting and discussing the Cuban situation with seven of them) during their presidential campaigns all had continuously assured the Cuban exiles of their commitment to liberate Cuba, however, none of them did anything to help us free Cuba. I strongly believe, until this day, that the President who failed us at the Cuban beaches was truly and sincerely remorseful about his great failure to support us and worked hard to rectify his historic mistake and helped us again in our efforts to free Cuba of the tyrant’s communist dictatorship.





 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/123702
    

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2005-02-17/news/0502160707_1_pigs-invasion-cuban-castro