April 18, 1976
Bay of Pigs Vets 'Presente' -- But their banner is Not
By SAM JACOBS
"Alberto Gonzalez Recio."
"Juan Gonzalez Romero."
"Carlos Guas Decall."
"Omar Guerra Gutierrez."
One by one, the names of the 92 men who fell in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba 15 years ago were read.
And after each name, their surviving comrades in Assault Brigade
2506 responded in unison with the one word - "presente (present)" - which indicated that they had not been forgotten.
APRIL 17 is not just a day of honor for Brigade 2506. April 17 is "a day of honor for all Cuba," Juan E. Perez-Franco, president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, told several hundred persons - many of them veterans - gathered around the monument to the Martyrs of Assault Brigade 2506 at SW Eighth Street and 13th Avenue Saturday.
Although the Bay of Pigs invasion dead are honored every April 17, Saturday's ceremony was supposed to be a special one - the day that the veterans were to formally receive the brigade flag that they had presented to President John F. Kennedy at the Orange Bowl Dec. 18, 1962.
Ellis Rubin, attorney for the veterans association, had flown to Boston Thursday to accept the flag from the Kennedy Library, where it had been stored since Kennedy's was assassination.
But the flag was not brought to Saturday's ceremony, Rubin said. It remained instead in an undisclosed bank vault, where it will stay until May 20, Cuban Independence Day, when it will be presented to the entire Cuban exile community in ceremonies at the Ermita de la Caridad, 3601 S. Miami Ave.
"THE BOARD of directors of the veterans association received some threats that the flag might be desecrated," Rubin explained before the ceremony. "They were afraid that there might not be enough security."
Even without the flag, however, Saturday's ceremony was an emotional one for the veterans and relatives and friends of those who didn't return from the invasion.
There was Father Tomas Macho, a priest who accompanied the invasion, remaining "Senor Dios (the lord)" that "we are the same ones who were abandoned on the beach 15 years ago" and praying that some future April would bring "a springtime of liberty for Cuba."
There was Alma Rubi, mother of two Bay of Pigs survivors, one who had been seriously wounded, reciting her poem "To Die for One's Country Is to Live."
"THEY PREFERRED death rather than to live as slaves," she told the hushed crowd. "Who says that they failed? They are our sacred history."
.There was Maria Luisa Lorenzo, the mother of a fallen aviator, dressed in black and clutching a book, "Operacion Puma, La Batalla Aerea de Bahia de Cochinos. (Operation Puma, The Air Battle of the Bay of Pigs)."
"The dead are ordering us to continue fighting for our country," she said, adding, however, that the dead "have gained confidence in us" because of the large number of survivors who come each year to say "presente" when the names are read.
And there was attorney Rubin, reciting through a translator, the words of President Kennedy that day in the Orange Bowl when he received the brigade flag. "I can assure you that it will be returned to this brigade one day in a free Havana."
There were also calls for unity in a community beset by factionalism and the assassinations of four outspoken leaders in the last two
"WE HAVE to live here in peace among ourselves without a division in the Cuban community," said Father Macho in his opening prayer.
In his speech ending the ceremony, Perez-Franco told the crowd that "we have to come together to fight alongside those who are fighting against Communist Castro." And he added that "we support those who are fighting against spies, especially the Cuban fishermen."
This was an apparent reference to the recent attack by an unknown vessel on a Cuban fishing boat. One fisherman was killed and four others were wounded.
Earlier in the day, a group calling itself the Sons of Giron Movement, claimed credit for the attempted fire bombing of the house of an artist for Areito, a Cuban political magazine.
The group, named after Playa Giron beach in the Bay of Pigs, sent a message to the Assaci.ated Press in Miami that it was responsible for throwing afire bomb against the rear of the home of Vincente Dapico.The Dopico family was awakened by the sounds of glass breaking at 1:35 a.m. There was no fire.
Areito magazine has called for realistic dealings with Castro's government and has criticized recent violent activities of some exiles.
Among the listeners Saturday were some familiar faces.
They included convicted Watergate burglar Bernard Barker, who said he helped organize the invasion, and Miami Commissioner Manolo Reboso, who said he spent the invasion on an intelligence ship anchored 17 miles off the coast of Cuba before returning to port in Nicaragua.
"THIS IS the old guard," Barker said amid embraces with some of his old friends. "You know, I can't think of any cause more appropriate for 1976 than the cause represented by this event."
Among the veterans, there was some disappointment that the brigade flag was not present Saturday.
But, said Oscar G. Martinez, a veteran of both the pre-Castro Cuban and U.S. Air Forces, everyone now will look forward to the May 20 ceremony.
"This will give us another occasion," he said, "to bring together the people."