The Miami Herald
October 18, 1999
CIA figure for Bay of Pigs invasion dies


 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
 Hendersonville, N.C.

 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 of Burmese
 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 unsuccessful
 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 safe houses,
 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, these Cuban
 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
 his life.


 He had been recalled from Venezuela in early 1960 to undertake the project,
 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 in planning
 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 resigned,'' he
 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 were
 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 and
 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 U.S. intelligence
 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, Esterline
 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 a Burmese
 guerrilla battalion fighting the Japanese, and was awarded a Bronze Star for his

 He returned to Pennsylvania after the war, finishing an accounting degree at
 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