The Miami Herald
February 13, 2001

Bay of Pigs pilot honored

After 40 years, CIA flier finally breaks silence

 Cox News Service

 PALM BEACH GARDENS -- He trained Cuban Americans to bomb their
 homeland. He fell in love with the cause. He joined the assault on the Bay of Pigs
 and flew for his life. Then Carl Nick Sudano barely mentioned any of it for 40

 He'd let out a whisper now and then about his work in support of "the agency.''
 But for the most part, the CIA code of silence suited Sudano's need to downplay
 himself, to go about his business and leave it at that.

 On Jan. 20, the CIA honored him with a rare Agency Seal Medallion in recognition
 of his support during the embarrassing failure to overthrow Fidel Castro in April

 He was honored along with the man who flew the B-26 bomber he nearly died in
 and the families of two other men, an unusual public display about a chapter in
 American history the CIA has good reason to try to forget.

 The U.S. government said 114 Cuban exiles and four American pilots died in a
 mission that Washington portrayed as a strictly Cuban uprising that it had nothing
 to do with. It was originally designed as a gradual escalation of anti-Castro forces,
 with help from the U.S. It ballooned into an all-out invasion, its budget jumping
 from $4 million to $46 million, in which the American-trained invaders were
 trapped on the beach by Castro's men.

 One of the American trainers, Sudano only had to keep quiet for 20 years, he
 said. The next 20 was his decision alone. But secrecy doesn't come so naturally

 Then 31, now 70, Sudano got involved, he said, when his friend at the Alabama
 Air National Guard, Riley Shamburger, told him pilots were wanted to help train
 Cuban exiles how to fly in combat for some ``important'' government mission.

 He'd do it.

 "I was getting bored a little, sitting around in Birmingham, Ala.,'' Sudano said. He
 told his wife he was going to technical school. Pilot Carl Nick Sudano became
 civilian Nick Sudoli, so everyone could deny knowing him if things went wrong.
 Americans were to have no acknowledged role in the invasion -- President John F.
 Kennedy said so.

 He arrived to a surreal atmosphere at the training ground in Puerto Cabezas in
 Nicaragua. News had broken about the CIA's plan to organize Cuban Americans
 to storm the shores of Cuba and eventually topple Castro, but no one, no one
 official at least, ever said the words "Bay of Pigs.''

 There was a divide, both culturally and psychologically, between the Americans
 and the Cubans. But Sudano -- known simultaneously as drinker,
 bar-room-brawler and heck-of-a-nice-guy -- made several Cuban friends right away
 in a setting where some reports say the Cubans were treated poorly.

 "You talk about families,'' said Sudano, "how homesick they might be and their
 cause to try to liberate their country. I became very attached to their cause, too
 much so, I think.''

 The Cubans trained by Sudano and many other Americans never had a chance,
 Sudano said, because Kennedy decided to withhold U.S. air support that was
 needed to obliterate Castro's air power. The invading forces were encircled by
 Castro's troops a few days into the mission. The exile pilots, some having flown
 10 or more missions, were dog-tired.

 The Americans weren't, though. And despite the orders that they not fly to Cuba,
 Shamburger had another proposition for Sudano on the invasion's last day, April
 19, 1961.

 "Our president said, 'No.' We said, 'Screw you, we're going,''' Sudano said. He
 and seven other men in four other planes got their superiors' blessings and took
 off in bombers disguised as Cuban. Sudano paired with Joe Shannon.

 It was a suicide mission. But Sudano was sure he'd be just fine, because, he
 said, you're always sure if you're in combat.

 After a three-hour flight, the bombers were descending toward their targets. Then
 their run stopped before it started. He heard Shamburger say over the radio, "I'm
 hit. On fire.''

 "I looked behind me and I saw Riley peeling off, going down toward the
 Caribbean,'' Sudano said. One of his best military friends was dead but Sudano,
 to survive, had to ignore it. The Cuban T-33 wanted them next. Four of the group's
 eight men didn't make it back, Sudano said.

 Shannon guided the plane low, because his plane was more maneuverable at low
 altitudes than the T-33.

 "I didn't think we had a spitting chance in hell at that time,'' Sudano said.

 Twenty feet above the Caribbean, Shannon zigzagged at 325 miles per hour. The
 Cuban fighter couldn't lock in on them. They lived.

 At the ceremony in Birmingham, emotions came out.

 "I had a frog in my throat about 3 pounds,'' Sudano said. He was so moved he
 couldn't bring himself to deliver his prepared speech, in which he would have
 decried "the arrogance and stupidity of decisions made by political hacks,''
 meaning, he says, primarily Kennedy.

 The four who died were honored years ago. Sudano received little information
 about the choice to honor the survivors now. In a letter to him, the CIA wrote that
 "we've located records'' identifying Sudano and others as having flown but never
 having been honored. That's it.

 His story told, he ponders the medallion's meaning. It'll be a terrific heirloom for
 the grandkids, he declares.

 At last, he says, "I'm proud of it, no doubt about it.''