BY DON BOHNING
Jacob Donald ``Jake'' Esterline, a veteran of U.S. intelligence
services and the
CIA'S project director for the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, has died
at age 79. Death came quickly at midday Saturday as he collapsed of an
apparent heart attack while riding in a car with his son-in-law near his home in
Esterline, who spent 27 years with the Central Intelligence Agency
and its World
War II forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was a significant
participant in the making of contemporary history.
In addition to his role in the Bay of Pigs, he commanded a battalion
guerrillas in a jungle war against the Japanese; was chief guerrilla warfare trainer
at The Farm, a once-clandestine training school for CIA recruits at Williamsburg,
Va.; headed the CIA's Washington task force in the 1954 overthrow of
Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz; served as CIA station chief in Guatemala,
Venezuela, Panama and Miami during the height of the Cold War and as deputy
chief of the agency's Western Hemisphere division.
Apart from the Bay of Pigs, it was as chief of the CIA's Miami
office from 1968 to
1972, that involved him most directly in Cuban affairs.
His task in Miami was to quietly complete the phaseout of the
post-Bay of Pigs secret war against Fidel Castro -- started by the Kennedy
administration and known in its initial stages as Operation Mongoose -- without
creating a scandal that might embarrass Washington.
That meant disposing of ships and boats, terminating leases on
marinas, boat yards, relocating the CIA's Miami offices and -- the most difficult
task -- laying off the several hundred Cubans still directly on the payroll.
``I felt a sense of obligation to the Cubans after the failure
of the Bay of Pigs,'' he
said, explaining in a 1995 interview why he volunteered for the Miami assignment.
``If it was going to be done, I wanted to see it done right.
``I thought, `Really, my heart will always be with these people,
exiles in all these years, starting with the Bay of Pigs, and I don't want to see
them cast in the cold.' ''
For better or worse, however, his role in the Bay of Pigs remains
the event for
which he will be most remembered and one that haunted him for the remainder of
He had been recalled from Venezuela in early 1960 to undertake
which initially was envisioned as a guerrilla incursion at Trinidad, on Cuba's south
coast. It eventually evolved into a full-scale invasion at the Bay of Pigs, an
isolated swamp area 80 miles to the west.
Both he and Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, his paramilitary counterpart
the invasion, became increasingly doubtful of its chance for success. On an April
Sunday, a week before the invasion, Esterline and Hawkins went to the home of
Richard Bissell, the agency's director of clandestine services who was in overall
charge of the operation, and told him they were quitting.
After a heated discussion, Bissell talked them out of quitting
by appealing to their
loyalty and warning that their resignations wouldn't stop the invasion.
``We made a bad mistake by not sticking to our guns and staying
said in the 1995 interview.
The invasion failed, with both Esterline and Hawkins convinced
the change in
landing sites had much to do with its failure, along with President Kennedy's
reduction in the air cover that had been promised for the invaders.
Hawkins, in a telephone interview Sunday, recalled that Esterline,
in his capacity
as the invasion task force chief ``had struggled continually to persuade political
authorities to provide all the support and protection necessary for a small force of
Cuban exiles to be landed on the Cuban coast.
``Failing this,'' said Hawkins, ``he warned his superior at the
CIA that the landing
could not succeed with the restrictions imposed by the president. He
recommended cancellation, but his advice was not heeded. The result was a
military, political and diplomatic disaster at the Bay of Pigs.''
Hawkins praised Esterline as a man ``whose dedication and abilities
recognized at the CIA throughout his long career'' and who ``devoted his life to the
defense of the United States.''
``Jake was a great leader,'' said Sam Halpern, a retired CIA colleague
contemporary of Esterline. ``He believed in what he was doing and he saw trouble
ahead at the Bay of Pigs and tried to stop the operation to no avail.''
``I had the privilege and honor of serving under him during the
community's secret war against Castro communism,'' said Carlos Obregon, a
Cuban-American businessman in Miami. ``He shared with hundreds of us exile
Cubans a love and passion for our cause.''
Born in Lewistown, western rural Pennsylvania on April 26, 1920,
attended Temple University in Philadelphia for three years then enrolled in Officer
Candidate School where he was when World War II war broke out.
He was recruited into the OSS, winding up as the commander of
guerrilla battalion fighting the Japanese, and was awarded a Bronze Star for his
He returned to Pennsylvania after the war, finishing an accounting
Temple. Ordered back to active duty in 1951 when the Korean War broke out, he
took up a standing offer to join the CIA.
Survivors include Mildred, his wife of 53 years; two sons, Jacob
Alan Esterline of
Austin, Texas; and John Esterline of Peachtree City, Ga.; and a daughter Ann
Hutcheson of Flat Rock, N.C.
Memorial services are pending at the Shuler and Luck Funeral Home,
Hendersonville, N.C. The family asks that donations be sent to the Four Seasons
Hospice, P.O. Box 2395, Hendersonville, NC 28793.
Copyright 1999 Miami Herald