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In light of the historic news of renewed diplomatic relations between U.S and Cuba I was compelled to share an excerpt from a creative nonfiction story I’ve been documenting for the better part of five years. This is the very beginning of a book for young adults about teenagers who fought in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba on April 17, 1961. The following is my take on one of several interviews I had with a few veterans of the CIA-trained, Brigade 2506 who were barely out of school when they joined the conflict. My father was one of them.

Pablo Cartaya clippingCoincidentally, one of the other subjects I’ve interviewed, Carlos Leon y Acosta said something to me the other day that has gotten to the core of my feelings about everything. When asked how he felt about the news of Cuba, he told me, “The noise between my brain and my heart is deafening. My heart isn’t allowing me to accept what my brain is telling me makes sense.” It’s a haunting thought and one that I hope to explore as this period of history continues to unfold before my eyes.

The noise between my brain and my heart is deafening. My heart isn’t allowing me to accept what my brain is telling me makes sense.

THE INVISIBLE FIRE

The Young Adults of Brigade 2506
and The Bay of Pigs Invasion

Part One: Carlos

Pablo Cartaya-Cuba fighters

Miguel (Miguelón) Olmo, Ricardo Casanueva, Orlando (Bebo) Acosta, Ricardo (Rico) Garcia & Manuel (Croqueta) Rodríguez Aragón in the Florida Keys in 1960 about to board a boat to Cuba. Neither Ricardo, Rico, or Croqueta had had their 18th birthday yet.

Several months after his 17th birthday, he had already trained to jump out of an airplane and carry ammunition for a 30-caliber machine gun that was built to take down aircraft. His job was to load the gun and carry the ammo. He was at the bottom of the military totem pole but that didn’t matter to him. What mattered was that he chose to do it. To be a part of it.

Why? Why this? I asked him.

Because that’s what you do when it matters. You become part of something.

And there he was, April 17, 1961, in the midst of it all. Hundreds of feet above the beach, waiting to jump into the swamp with more than eighty pounds of ammunition connected to a rope tied around his waist. His objective was to rendezvous with the small battalion of paratroopers whose mission was to blow up the bridges and trek deep into the heart of the Sierra de Escambrar to begin the resistance.

But the plane passed the drop zone. The militia was covering the road. A sea of powder blue uniforms everywhere.

Come to think of it, he recollected over coffee one morning, it was the first time he knew something was wrong. In that moment though, there is no time to think about anything when artillery is exploding all around you and fate becomes the only decider of fortune; good or bad.

Before he could inhale, he had already jumped toward the swamp with the GP bag (holding the folded machine gun) and the rope tied to the bag of 30-millimeter shells. He plummeted to the swamp below. There was barely a thousand feet to jump from. The parachute reacted quickly and once opened, violently whipped back causing his body to get tense. When his feet finally skimmed the water, the second lasted a minute before fast forwarding angrily. His boots dug into the mud and he face planted into the murky water. He sprung up quickly and surveyed the landscape. The road was a few hundred feet away. The militia was swarming the exit. The bridge was completely surrounded. If they spotted him before he unhooked his chute, they would open fire and take him out within seconds.

How did he feel? I asked. Did he want to snap the chords of the chute and go guns blazing toward the militiamen? Did he want to find Bernardo, set up the machine gun and open fire on those Communist bastards?

No.

What then? What did he feel? I peppered again and again. He looked at me calmly, a small smile growing on his face.

He was shoulder deep in saw grass and mangroves that grew out of the murky ocean water. The enemy was already searching for him, he had no idea where the rest of the battalion was and the bag of ammunition was dragging him into the water. How did he feel?

He was scared shitless.


PABLO CARTAYA is an author and contributing editor of LitChat. Read his complete bio here.