South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 17, 2006

Bay of Pigs vets mark 45th year of failed Cuba invasion

Associated Press

MIAMI -- Bay of Pigs veterans marked the 45th anniversary of the failed Cuba invasion Monday as they geared up for a massive campaign to create a permanent museum commemorating the attack and its history.

The ceremony at the Bay of Pigs Memorial in Little Havana drew dozens of former members of the CIA-organized Brigade 2506, which landed on the beaches of Cuba on April 17, 1961. Together with family and friends, they stood beneath a flame burning in their honor and recited the names of the more than 100 members of the group who died during the raid.

Debbie Millan, whose father Jose Santos Millan, was among those who died in the invasion, brought her mother and 7-year-old daughter to the ceremony. Each laid flowers at the base of the memorial.

``I come here every year to honor my father,'' said Millan, who was a young girl when her father died.

Organizers said about 1,200 people attended a separate event Saturday in Coconut Grove, but with nearly half the veterans now dead, many fear the history surrounding the invasion could be forgotten.

So, that's where Paul Crespo comes in. The Cuban-American radio commentator, who became interested in the history of the attack as a boy growing up in Los Angeles, is now spearheading an effort to build a Bay of Pigs Museum.

A small two-room museum in Little Havana already tells the history of Brigade 2506. Crespo and the veterans hope a multimedia museum _ expected to cost $10 million _ will also focus on the Cold War context of the invasion. Official fundraising kicks off in May.

``Since we're getting old, a time will come in a few years when we won't be able to maintain the (current) museum and the library like we do now,'' said Brigade 2506 President Felix Rodriguez told the Miami Herald. ``We're trying to get the younger generations, the children of Brigade members and others interested in Cuban history to help maintain that interest in the Brigade and in Cuba after we're gone.''

Crespo called the Bay of Pigs invasion one of the defining moments for Miami.

``If the Bay of Pigs had succeeded, all the Cubans would have gone back, Miami would have been a very different place,'' he said.

The event also had broader political significance for Florida and the country.

The initial plan for the Bay of Pigs invasion was approved by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, with a covert attack to be led by a paramilitary force of Cuban exiles. But it was President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, who decided not to send U.S. armed forces to participate in the invasion, which was crushed by Cuban forces in two days.

That decision, and the U.S. government's failure to provide sufficient tactical support or admit involvement in the plan, helped propel Cuban exiles to embrace the Republican party, where most have remained to this day.