Chapter Two: William Morgan: From Intrigue to Frogs
"I was wearing a two-hundred-fifty-dollar suit, white-on-white shirt, and thirty-seven-dollar shoes. I looked like a real fat-cat tourist-but I only had four dollars in my pocket." Thus did William Morgan describe his arrival in Cuba during that nation's civil war in 1957.
Many people believe that Fidel Castro won the Cuban civil war/revolution. Fidel Castro believes it. The fact is, however, that a large number of Cubans from all walks of life participated in that struggle, and a number of these people played significant leadership roles. Castro became a symbol: he was young, charismatic, public relations-conscious, and there was a romantic aura about him. The reality, however, was that Castro was the leader of but one of several revolutionary entities engaged in the war against Dictator Fulgencio Batista.
One of the other military leaders was an American, William Alexander Morgan. If soldiers of fortune can, by the very nature of their calling, be termed "colorful," none is more aptly described by that word than Morgan. During the course of his career he was a United States soldier, a fugitive from justice, a guerrilla chieftain, the "mayor" of a Cuban city, a master international intriguer, a high-ranking officer in a foreign army-and a frog farmer.
Morgan's adventures began early in his life. He was born April 18, 1928, in Cleveland, Ohio. Although his father was in Morgan's words, a "solid Republican," Morgan ran with the wrong crowd, "ran away from home so many times," and finally, at fifteen, ran away from school. In March 1946, he was picked up by the San Antonio police and a month later by the Toledo police, who suspected him of armed robbery but did not book him. When he was eighteen he enlisted in the Army and after training was sent to serve with the Occupation forces in Japan. He married a Japanese girl (and, being truly international, be later married an American girl in the United States and a Cuban girl in Cuba). Not very literate, fond of comic books, Morgan evidently was quite a talker: in the Army he was nicknamed "Gabby."
In November, 1947, Morgan was arrested for being AWOL and was sentenced to three months of hard labor with forfeiture of pay during that period. At the stockade in Kyoto, Japan, Morgan overpowered a guard, taking his pistol and uniform, and escaped. Recaptured and court-martialed, Morgan was found guilty of escape and armed robbery. His sentence:
To be dishonorably discharged from the service, to forfeit all pay and allowance due or to become due, and to be confined at hard labor, at such place as the reviewing authority may direct, for five (5) years.
Morgan did his time at the federal reformatories at Chillicothe, Ohio and Milan, Michigan. He was not a model prisoner: he was placed in solitary on several occasions for fighting, attempted escape, refusal to work, and attempted arson. (One of Morgan's nonadmirers would later describe him thus: "Like Fidel Castro, though on a lesser scale, Morgan was a superannuated juvenile delinquent. . . .")
After leaving prison, Morgan may have worked as a merchant seaman and in some aspect of electronics.
There had been plots and open insurrections against Batista in Cuba for a number of years; civil war was fully launched in November, 1956, with a major uprising in the eastern city of Santiago. One of the groups that organized to fight Batista was the Directorio Revolucionario, the militant arm of the Federation of University Students. It was with this group that Morgan made contact, possibly in Miami. He would later explain that he was impelled to involve himself because a friend had been tortured and killed by Batista's police. Quite likely Morgan was looking for new adventures; he was joining the rebels for the same reason so many Americans and foreigners have joined the French Foreign Legion.
Most foreigners became involved with Castro's 26 July Movement in Cuba, but Morgan made contact with the Directorio Revolucionario forces, led by Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, in the Escambray mountains bisecting central Cuba.
The American adventurer impressed no one on his inauspicious arrival in the DR camp. As Roger Redondo, one of the original members of the group, recalls, "I was on my back with food for the troops when I heard people [at my camp] talking in English. It sounded to me like words I knew were bad words, like "son-of-a-bitch." I didn't speak English at that time. I snuck around trying to find out what the hell was going on in the camp.
"Lazarao Artola was with a great big American, all red, fat . . . he had no shirt on. His body was stung by this 'chinicicacea.' It's a weed up there that has like a bee sting to it. His body was all puffed up, his eyes were puffed and he bad scratches everywhere on him. Artola, who lived in that region for a long time, was immune to the weed, but Morgan was not.
"Artola said the American was an adventurer. He said, I brought him up to see how long he'll last. Because be's so fat, I don't think he'll last too long. He probably works for the CIA or FBI."'
Menoyo ran the little band of guerrillas up and down the mountains for three days to get in shape. Morgan trudged up and down the mountains with the little twenty-nine-man band, losing weight and building up his strength. He lost thirty-five pounds quickly, since the fast-moving band was starving most of the time.
His military experience began to show. He had the training from the U.S. Army, and he taught the troops discipline. Ten days after they moved into the mountains, the small band encountered and ambushed a five-man Cuban army patrol. The patrol was preceding a major army sweep designed to clear out all revolutionary activity in the Escambray mountains. Flushed with their brief success, believed to be Morgan's first combat, the band force-marched over two hundred miles back and forth through the mountains for thirteen days, constantly exchanging shots with the larger pursuing force.
Morgan spoke no Spanish, so he had to communicate through Artola. As Redondo recalls: "Morgan would ask, 'How do you say this in Spanish?' pointing to everything he could find.
"That's how he started building his vocabulary, learning what the different things were. By the time the revolution was over, Morgan spoke pretty good Spanish."
By February 24, the guerrillas felt themselves safely enough ensconced to write a manifesto setting forth their military strategy--simultaneous urban and guerrilla warfare--and their political goals: restoration of democracy and a social revolution.
As revolutionary fervor grew throughout Cuba, the guerrilla group in the Escambray expanded too. Raw recruits as well as experienced urban fighters, all fleeing the police, marched up into the mountains to swell the ranks of the mountain warriors. There were encounters with the army at places with names like Fomento, Saltillo, Pedrero, Hanabanilla, and Güinía de Miranda.
Morgan's interpretation of the Spanish language led to errors. "On one occasion, Eloy Menoyo ordered Morgan not to fire on an army patrol approaching our camp because he wanted prisoners," related Redondo. "Morgan did not understand, and as soon as the army patrol got within breathing range, he let loose. The patrol retreated and a couple of their men were killed, but Menoyo got upset because he wanted to take prisoners. As a result of this, the soldiers that did escape went out and got a very large force and they forced them to go through the mountains for many days."
Morgan told author Robert K. Brown the story of a near-fatal misunderstanding of the language: "I remember Eloy telling me something about "dos caminos" [two roads]. So I had my group of ten men move down one of the two roads stretching before us. A short while later, we were trapped in an army ambush. We fought some one hundred fifty soldiers for two and a half hours. We killed forty of them."
Morgan went on to say that he later found out Menoyo was ordering him not to proceed down the two roads. But that particular action was a turning point in Morgan's career. Everyone was impressed with the fact that he and his disciplined men had turned an ambush around and inflicted more casualties on the enemy force than they had inflicted on Morgan's band.
Morgan trained more and more revolutionaries in light infantry weapons and tactics, unarmed combat, and knife fighting, while leading forces in combat.
Redondo traced Morgan's Cuban military career: "He was commander of a guerrilla, which could be anywhere from five to twelve men. Later on, he was made commander of a column, and . . . later on he was made commander of a zone. He had become so useful . . . when he was trimmed down, with his military knowledge . . . he was speaking Spanish, that he was regarded as one of the most important members of the Second Front. In other words, every time there was anything important to be done where all the chiefs would meet, Morgan would be one of them."
Within a short time, troops led by Morgan had fought over fifteen major engagements, losing none of them.
As Morgan later related in an interview with author Brown: "The Cuban Army periodically sent out two thousand to three thousand troops in offensive thrusts into the mountains to hunt us down and destroy our small bands. We were always outnumbered at least thirty to one. Some twenty or thirty of us would stay on the soldiers' backs; we wouldn't let them alone. As soon as one group would break off another would take up the attack. That was how we had to fight. Why? We needed the guns."
Weapons were indeed a problem. The 26 July Movement was getting most of the foreign support going to the Cuban revolutionaries. Their public-relations personnel and contacts in the United States were better than any other group at the time. Even when weapons were shipped to the Second Front, Castro's men frequently managed to intercept them.
Morgan found an experienced gunsmith who had seen action in the Spanish Civil War and in a number of South American revolutions and intrigues. Captain Camacho, as he was called, scrounged up welding equipment, lathes, and a forge, to set up the revolution's army. He invented unique, effective weapons to compensate for the guerrillas' shortfall, making them out of parts available or captured locally. An inventive genius, one of his more widely known items was called the "Cuban-Winchester" by those who used it. He used the frame of a .44 lever action Winchester rifle produced in the 1890s and combined it with parts from Winchester semi-automatic rifles, M-1 Garand rifles, and a few handmade parts. He reamed out his own barrels and, depending on what ammo was available locally, the user could select .45 ACP, U.S. .30 carbine, or 9mm caliber by switching barrels. The weapon could utilize many different types of pistol magazines, including the efficient Luger .32 round "snail drum."
Morgan reported that this gun bad limited accuracy, but was highly regarded due to its firepower. He himself preferred British 9mm submachine guns, due to their light weight and the light weight of the 9mm ammo. During the guerrilla experiences, he noted the difference a heavier gun and ammo made when trying to move fast and far.
The guerrillas were good at psychological warfare. On one occasion battle commands were broadcast over a shortwave radio in what Morgan later described as a "tremendous propaganda ploy." The rebel commander, Eloy Menoyo, "directed fictitious troops here and there, and had a helluva time." Realistic background noises were supplied by Morgan and others firing pistols, rifles, and Browning automatics. "We yelled a lot, too," said Morgan.
War in the Escambray mountains was brutal and vicious. When informers were found by Morgan's men, they would be executed on the spot and a sign left with one word: "Morgan." While revolutionaries in Cuba concentrated on dealing with Batista's army and secret police, the army and police terrorized the populace, further inflaming the people, who joined the rebels by the hundreds. As the flames of revolution spread, the army became more frustrated and repressive in its efforts to deal with the popular uprising.
Morgan related his experience of watching in hiding near a village with a seventeen-man group while an eighty-seven man Batista patrol systematically pillaged the village: the army men were drinking as they worked, and their depredations on the villagers became harder and harder for the outnumbered watchers to witness. Batista's men, beat and tortured villagers for information on Morgan's band, who were only a few hundred feet away. The army men's anger increased as the villagers refused to talk, having no information to give them. From one of the last huts, a large, burly black sergeant pulled out a doddering, smiling, seventy-year-old man who was the village idiot. Unaware of the army men's anger, or of anything that was happening around him, the retarded old man smiled helpfully and suggested, "Why don't you go look for them in the mountains?" It was the wrong reply. Enraged, the big sergeant had his men hold the helpless, uncomprehending old man while he cut the man's lips off. Then they looped a noose around the mutilated and screaming old man's neck, tying the other end to a truck bumper. Laughing, the soldiers jumped in the vehicle and sped down the street with their helpless victim dragged behind.
The army patrol was followed, as Its members moved drunkenly out of town. At an opportune moment the patrol was trapped by guerrillas and virtually annihilated, with only sixteen out of eighty-seven men making their way out alive. The large sergeant was captured alive. According to one witness, most of the guerrillas in that particular fight were carrying shotguns. "Everybody took a turn, and his [the sergeant's] body was just riddled with holes."
As Morgan later recalled, for up to eight miles there was nothing but blood, guts, and buzzards left following this long encounter with Batista's killers.
By the beginning of the summer the DR had captured the Escambray. So complete was the control that the rebels set up an administrative system. This included judicial, educational, and public works departments. By September there were some eight hundred guerrillas in the Escambray plus about one hundred fifty recruits in training. The guerrillas were supported by an extensive clandestine network in the urban area. In the fall of 1958, the army made an attempt to cut the guerrilla-held area in two. The effort failed, and after two weeks the troops pulled out, leaving behind weapons, ammunition, and even a tank.
The DR now had two hospitals, two landing strips, and twenty-eight schools operating, as well as training camps all through the mountains. Morgan's fame rose as the DR attacked a fairly large city, Trinidad, with only four hundred rebels. Failing to take the city, the rebels fell back, with Morgan taking charge of the rear guard. His rear guard was successful in delaying a Batista army pursuing force, so the retreat was done in good order, preserving the morale of the rebels. Survivors of those early days remember how Morgan earned a wounded young rebel on his back all the way from the scene of the battle to the mountains, where he was treated.
All was not well, however, within the leadership of the DR. A division surfaced concerning tactics (whether to try to kin Batista; a DR attack on the Presidential Palace in March, 1957 bad failed) and over who was in command of the guerrilla fighters.
Menoyo broke away from the DR and set up a separate guerrilla organization, called the Segundo Frente Nacional del Escambray (the Second National Front of the Escambray). With Menoyo went Morgan, serving as a close aide. Both men were now comandantes (major/commander), highest rank among any of the guerrillas fighting Batista, and there were approximately 300 men under Menoyo's command. The Second Front soon distinguished itself in the war. In an encounter at La Diana it inflicted 37 casualties on the army; at Charco Azul, the army suffered 140 military casualties. There were additional clashes, each enabling the Second
Front further to consolidate and extend its control, and to become better known.
Friction grew between the Second Front and the more publicized 26 July Movement led by Fidel Castro. Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo was a true revolutionary, dedicated to the idea of social change and democracy. His brother had fought in the Spanish Civil War and in Africa, with the French Foreign Legion, while another had been killed during the attack on Batista's Presidential Palace in 1957. Menoyo knew a little about Castro--enough to know that Castro might be as repressive as Batista. In fact, Menoyo considered Castro a potential dictator. Morgan was anticommunist and cautious of anyone who had leftist leanings. He was remembered by his compatriots for the American flag patch he wore on his uniform at all times.
Hence, both men were concerned at the direction in which the 26 July Movement was going. The 26 July Movement was concerned about the strategically well-placed Second Front as well.
Castro dispatched Ernesto "Che" Guevara with a column of two hundred men, ostensibly to join Morgan's forces in Escambray and to coordinate First and Second Front action. In fact, according to intelligence received by Menoyo and Morgan, the force was tasked to take control of the Second Front.
Che's column was sent on ahead to effect a linkup with Morgan and Menoyo's men while Che dealt with other business. But Morgan and his men surrounded Che's two hundred men and disarmed them. When Che arrived, hot words were exchanged as negotiations began. He was humiliated by the disarming of his men by the Morgan-trained guerrillas and further humiliated when rules were laid down 'that effectively precluded his men from crossing into what be,came Second Front-dominated territory. The final straw came ,when the Escambray guerrillas returned Che's men to him -weaponless and without boots.
Morgan, Menoyo, and Castro tried to work out an arrangement to avoid civil war between the groups before the goal of overthrowing Batista was met. They ended up with a plan to coordinate military actions and social plans for the people under their control. The two groups were to coordiate activities in the future.
By this time, Morgan had a $20,000 price tag on his head--dead or alive--from the Batista government. But the government was tottering. On December 22, 1958, Morgan planned and led a large rebel attack on a key fortified area protecting Cienfuegos, one of Cuba's largest cities. The rebels surrounded the fortress--a converted tuberculosis sanitarium called Topes de Collantes-and cut it off from all outside communication and supply. Unable to attack owing to their lack of artillery, the rebels simply kept the pressure on, letting nature take its course inside the fortress. In six days, the fortress was surrendered and the road was open to Cienfuegos.
The victory signaled the beginning of the end for Batista's army. A three thousand-man column was formed, with Morgan planning to attack and take Cienfuegos on January 2, 1959; but word came on January 1 that Batista and some of his entourage had fled the country in the early morning hours, leaving Batista's army and supporters to fend for themselves.
Batista left just after midnight on New Year's Day. Morgan and his column took the city and major naval base at Cienfuegos at 8:00 A.M. the same morning, and Morgan became the "mayor" of the city.
When Castro arrived in Cienfuegos on his victory trip west to Havana, he was greeted by Morgan. Author Jay Mallin recalls: "Morgan was a good host. He let Castro do all the talking and hog the spotlight."
Although at first he held only the vague title "Delegate General of the President to the Armed Organizations," Castro quickly emerged as the dominant figure in the new government and in the country-a position he would still hold twenty years later. Castro was, in effect, commander-in-chief of the country's military and, as such, he wanted no armed men on the island except those that he commanded. The Second Front of the Escambray and other revolutionary organizations were dissolved, the rebels being given the option of becoming part of the regular-now "revolutionary"--armed forces. Morgan stayed, maintaining his rank of comandante and his salary of 277 pesos monthly.
For a while, Morgan and his followers celebrated their victory. Offers for movies and books came in, but nothing was done about them. Then Morgan decided to return to Las Villas Province, his base area during the revolution. He threw himself into rebuilding projects, trying to repair the damage caused by years of neglect and war. He and Menoyo formed a veterans' organization, designed to monitor the progress of the revolution and prevent it from drifting away from democracy into another tyranny.
It was a time of violent ferment in Cuba. The entire civilian and military leadership of the country had changed. The political structure had been radically altered, and major social transformations were underway. Although this was not apparent initially, the country was on the road to communism. Exiles from other countries flooded into Cuba. Flushed with victory, Castro and his men aimed at spreading their revolution to other countries, utilizing these exiles. The exiles received military training, were armed, and then were dispatched to invade their homelands. One of the major invasions, by land and air, was that of the Dominican Republic, in an effort to topple the dictator Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. The invasion was crushed. Trujillo never forgave Castro.
It was a time of intrigue, and some of the intrigue was directed against Castro, too. Not every Cuban, by far, was euphoric over his coming to power. A conspiracy began to take form, involving dissident civilians, former military men, and military men who had served under the Batista regime but, not having war crimes charged against them, had been permitted to remain in service.
The plotters contacted Morgan and Menoyo and asked them to join the conspiracy. The pitch was probably that Cuba was heading left and away from the democratic ideals for which the revolution had been fought. Morgan, Menoyo, and their men had battled for democracy; would they not fight again now? One of the plot leaders was Arturo Hernandez Tellaheche, a former Cuban senator. He was to become president of the country if the plot succeeded.
Morgan and Menoyo agreed to go along with the conspiracy. At some point, however, they contacted Castro and informed him of their role. Whether they did this out of loyalty or in self-preservation because Castro had learned about the plot is not known. It is also possible that Morgan and Menoyo turned double agents because the United States failed to support the plot after Morgan made an approach to the U.S. embassy. Morgan told an Embassy official, Paul Bethel: "Castro is a Communist, see, and we don't like Communists.... Well, we've been working to get our people into strategic spots. One of them is secretary to Che [Guevara]."
Morgan claimed that his forces, with adequate arms and ammunition, could overthrow Castro "within three days."
The United States stayed clear, perhaps fearing that this was a trap. Perhaps the Americans missed a good chance to be rid of Castro; no one will ever know.
Some observers or colleagues felt that Morgan was in the plot from its inception, and turned traitor when Castro got wind of it, fearing for his own life. Others wondered if the whole plot wasn't instigated by Castro to flush out his opposition once and for all, and that Morgan helped get it going for Castro. Castro's later treatment of Morgan would indicate trust and gratitude at first, coupled with growing doubts as reports of Morgan's alleged counter-revolutionary activities trickled in later.
Lurking off to one side in the conspiratorial shadows was the Dominican Republic's Trujillo. Cuban exiles living in the DomRep were in contact with the plotters. Trujillo's own hand in the affair was so direct that Morgan was advised to go to Miami to pick up funds from the Dominican consul there. He did so, receiving $52,000 from the consul to assist the conspiracy. Trujillo sent a shipload of weapons to Cuba which included at least twenty .50 caliber machine guns. The plot called for anti-Castro troops to seize Havana, to be followed by the landing of an expeditionary force from the DomRep.
The time to strike approached; little did the plotters know that Castro was aware of every step they took. On a Saturday in August, 1959, the leaders of the conspiracy gathered in Morgan's house in the Miramar suburb of Havana. Castro, pretending to be unaware of the plot, flew that same day to the Isle of Pines, where he frequently vacationed. (The plotters had expected Castro to be out of the country altogether, participating in an international conference in Chile. He didn't go there-that would have been a bit too dangerous.)
And then the blow fell. Morgan and Menoyo, instead of continuing in the conspiracy, announced that everyone was under arrest. Before the stunned eyes of the conspirators, Castro himself and a top military commander strode in. The commander sarcastically said to plot leader Tellaheche, "Any orders, Mr. President?" Castro went around asking each of the plotters, "What were you going to be minister of?" The plotters were taken to military headquarters, and a nationwide roundup of other suspects was launched.
Morgan and Menoyo had performed a major service for Castro. Not only had they helped destroy a substantial plot, they had enabled Castro to clear out the last holdovers in the army, leaving only his own men there. Castro was now deeply entrenched in control, a fact which would enable him to weather the Bay of Pigs invasion a year and eight months later.
A strange thing now happened. Trujillo was a canny leader who had succeeded in running his country for almost three decades, despite international disfavor. But now he displayed an unexpected lack of intuition and/or intelligence-intelligence of both the mental and the military kinds.
The Cuban government said nothing about the conspiracy. Rumors swirled throughout the country, however, and it was known that an extensive purge was underway. Then, on August 11, 1959, the Miami News carried a story by Mallin providing a detailed account of the conspiracy and of the arrest of the leaders. The story was picked up and relayed by Associated Press and carried by the major Havana dailies. That the plot leaders had been seized must certainly have been known in Ciudad Trujillo, capital of the Dominican Republic.
But despite this, Trujillo went ahead with the plans for an invasion of Cuba.
Morgan did his best to encourage him.
Following the arrest of the conspirators, Morgan and Menoyo, flew to Las Villas Province, site of their original guerrilla operations. Cuban newspapers carried veiled speculation about Morgan. Was be a hero or a traitor? The uncertainty enhanced a new, crucial role upon which Morgan was about to embark.
Using the code name "Henry," Morgan began broadcasting by shortwave radio to the Dominican Republic. He reported that troops of the Second Front of the Escambray were in control of southern Las Villas, except for the cities. "Our troops are advancing," said Henry. "Send the [Dominican] Legion."
"Forward, Henry!" urged the Dominicans. And the Dominican radio claimed, "Contrary to the allegations of Fidel, Morgan is in Las Villas at the head of the counter-revolution."
An additional indication came that Trujillo was swallowing the bait. A plane circled over an isolated stretch of the Las Villas coast known as Playa El Ingles. It parachuted down cases of .50 caliber ammunition.
Castro went to great lengths to convince Trujillo that Morgan was telling the truth and that an uprising was indeed underway. All telephone communications with Las Villas were cut. "The line is interrupted," phone operators told persons trying to make calls. The Cuban army blocked the highway between Cienfuegos and the town of Trinidad-where the "rebels" were supposedly in control-and let no civilian traffic through to the latter town.
Castro flew to the airport at Cienfuegos in his transport plane and immediately took off in an army helicopter. Newmspapermen who tried to find out what was happening received blank looks from army officers. It was obvious that Castro couldn't fly far in a helicopter, so the newsmen reported that "he was flying over the hills of Trinidad." The implication was that he couldn't land at Trinidad itself. The press began carrying reports that Castro was personally directing the fight against the counter-revolutionaries.
All of this convinced Trujillo's otherwise astute intelligence service. The Dominicans informed "Henry" by radio that a plane would be sent to Trinidad carrying weapons and emissaries. In the evening of August 12, lights were lit along the small airstrip outside Trinidad. Morgan and Menoyo waited in a shack. Troops ringed the field. Castro sat in the dark under a mango tree.
Sure enough, shortly after eight o'clock a C-46 winged in and came to a stop. Out stepped six men. One wore the habit of a priest. The others wore mufti or khaki pants and white shirts. Morgan and Menoyo greeted the men sent by Trujillo and led them to a cuartel about half a mile up the road to confer. The carefully coached Cuban troops set up cries of "Death to Castro!" and "Viva Trujillo!" The troops unloaded the plane, which had brought thirteen bazookas, twenty cases of bazooka shells, and twenty cases of .50 caliber ammunition, as well as gloves to be used in firing bazookas. Castro himself slipped off his jacket and wanted to help unload but was deterred by prudent aides.
Once the cargo was off and the conference completed, the emissaries reboarded, and the aircraft took off again. Morgan and Menoyo were told that the plane would be back the following night with men and more weapons.
It was carnival time in Cienfuegos. People danced in the streets and houses were festooned with palm fronds and pieces of brightly colored paper. After the C-46 had left, Cas. tro slipped into town and went to the home of a city commissioner. The next day a puzzled Cienfueguero noticed a soldier pacing up and down a portion of a sidewalk. The worried citizen called military headquarters and reported, "There is a crazy soldier here doing strange things." Actually, it was a sentry doing duty outside the house where Castro was staying. The word soon spread that Castro was in town, and a crowd gathered in front of the house. Castro stepped onto the balcony and was loudly cheered. This was his thirty-third birthday, and the crowd broke into Happy Birthday. Castro told the citizens: "Go to the carnival and dance and enjoy yourselves Tonight I will be with you."
There was unusual activity at the Cienfuegos airport. Five transport planes flew in carrying approximately sixty-five troops each. The soldiers boarded trucks and set out for Trinidad. Castro disappeared from the house in which he had been staying.
The troop trucks rolled through the green hills around Cienfuegos and into Trinidad. Trinidad, with cobblestoned streets and shingled houses set next to each other, has hardly changed since Spanish colonial days. It was here that the final act of the great intrigue was about to be played out.
Curious citizens stood on the sidewalks and watched the troops rolling by and waved to them. The troops were stationed around the airport and on the road between the field and the cuartel. Townspeople gathered along the side of the road. The scene of the previous night was repeated. The airport lights were lit. Morgan and Menoyo waited in the shack. Castro stood off to one side about fifty yards from the airstrip.
At about 8:30 P.m. the C-46 appeared again. It landed and came to a stop a few yards away from the shack. Grim men wearing olive green uniforms stepped from the plane, and the waiting troops again yelled, "Down with Fidel!" "Vive el jefe!," "Down with the revolution!'' Castro happily joined in (later he would comment, "But I couldn't bring myself to say "Viva Trujillo!")
Morgan and Menoyo greeted the expeditionaries and again led them to the shack. Now, however, the drama drew to a close. Ile expeditionaries suddenly found themselves facing drawn guns and, dumbfounded, were told they were under arrest.
Still remaining at the plane, however, were two expeditionaries and the pilot, Colonel Jose Antonio Soto, who had been Batista's personal pilot and assistant chief of the Cuban air force. The unloading of the plane proceeded. The troops removed cases of ammunition and hand grenades, Springfield rifles, and Thompson submachine guns (their serial numbers carefully filed off). One of the expeditionaries handed a soldier a Dominican dollar as a souvenir. Another gave a lieutenant a major's stars and jokingly "promoted" him.
Once the plane had been unloaded, Cuban soldiers entered it to arrest the remaining expeditionaries. Someone started shooting, and within seconds the aircraft and the surrounding area were filled with confused gunfire. Castro stood nearby directing his men. When the firing ended, two expeditionaries and two soldiers were dead and several soldiers were wounded. Among the eight captured expeditionaries were several prizes: the son of a former mayor of Havana, the son of a former high police official, and Alfredo Maliban, a Spaniard who had once served in the French Foreign Legion and was now a member of Trujillo's Dominican Legion.
A few nights later Castro, as was his wont, appeared on television and paraded his prisoners. Castro boasted, "If we could have kept our plans secret for fifteen days we would have captured Trujillo and his whole army!"
Castro used the incident to lock up all his opponents, whether they advanced revolution against him or were simply vocal nonbelievers in the new Marxist faith. Ile arrests continued until up to six thousand suspected anti-Castro opponents were picked up.
Trujillo's memory was long, and assassins were sent after Morgan, but they failed to accomplish their task.
William Morgan had closed another chapter in his life. There were now no new adventures in sight. He remained a comandante but he commanded no troops. Was there, perhaps, a lingering suspicion in Castro's mind? Morgan himself would later say, "Some of the other comandantes were jealous. They resented the fact that an American held the rank of comandante. They resented the publicity that I got. If I had wanted to command a regiment in Las Villas I would have gotten it. But Fidel would have stayed up all night worrying about me. A guy in the middle can so easily get caught."
Morgan ostensibly decided to get out of politics and out of suspicion's way. He took a job with the Agriculture Ministry managing a huge fish hatchery (carp, sunfish, black bass) outside Havana. And then the soldier of fortune became interested in an even more unlikely subject: the raising of frogs. He read up on the subject and talked the agriculture minister into investing $70,000 in frogs, labor, and materials.
It was figured that the exportation of frogs would bring Cuba foreign exchange. The site selected for the frog farm was a large finca southwest of Havana that had been expropriated from the former top labor leader under the Batista government. Morgan planned out the farm itself and supervised the digging of ditches and building of concrete tanks. The farm was-started in March, 1960 and, two months later, Morgan had half a million scampering, croaking frogs. The man who had commanded troops in battle now managed one hundred workers, all of whom addressed him simply as "William."
Morgan took his work seriously. He decided the type and quantity of plants to be purchased to provide shade for the frogs in the ditches. He decided the chemicals to be used in the tanks in which the skins were placed. He kept the books, approved any purchases to be made, and arranged with canners as to the quantities of legs they were to receive and the prices they were to pay. Asked whether he had used blueprints in planning the ditches, Morgan replied: "Blueprints, your ass. I dug those fucking ditches."
While setting up and running his frog farm, Morgan continued managing the fish hatchery some twenty miles away. The two places were linked by shortwave radio. Morgan was kept busy: "I work eighteen hours daily, including Sundays. When I get to my home in Havana at night I drop into bed."
Morgan knew that Trujillo was "a guy that never forgives." Morgan claimed that the Dominican generalissimo was "offering five hundred thousand dollars for me dead." At his hip Morgan wore a gold-plated .45 with a bullet ready in the chamber. Wherever he went he was followed by Tommy gun-toting bodyguards, "my boys." Said Morgan: "We shoot fifty to sixty rounds in practice every week. Someone said to me that he wouldn't like to issue insurance on me. I said I wouldn't like to be the guy who tries to collect.'
This was mid-1960, and Cuba was now well on its way toward becoming a communist state. Morgan was unabashed about his own views. "There isn't anyone in Cuba who doesn't know where I stand-Fidel, Raul, or anyone. I am anticommunist. I don't like them. They tried to bold a political meeting here and I threw them out." What if the Cuban government were to change? he was asked. Morgan, whose U.S. citizenship had been lifted because he had served in a foreign army, responded: "I've run out of countries. I guess I'd have to go back into the hills."
Some mornings Morgan would line up his workers in milltary formation and shout: "I hate all communists! They work for Russia, not for Cuba. All of you who are communists and work for Russia take one step forward." Of course, no one did.
Morgan expressed the belief to Mallin, who visited him at the frog farm, that Castro would never let anything happen to him at the hands of the communists. It was a misplaced trust.
Rumors were ripe that Morgan was active again in an anti-Castro plot while running the frog farm. The rumors may have had some veracity, since close associates reported years later that his "frog farm!' began to look more and more like a military camp. He hired his Second Front friends, and his farm trucks may have been used to transport arms and supplies concealed in fifty-five-gallon oil drams to anti-Castro guerrillas in the Escambray mountains. Strong guerrilla forces opposed to Castro's slide to tyranny were operating against Castro's army.
Max Lesnick, a Cuban journalist, recalled later, 'We told Morgan he might be infiltrated by Castro's spies-and he was. He was operating against Castro in the same manner as against Batista. He was the mastermind of the uprising in the Escambray mountains before the Bay of Pigs, something he has never received credit for. All the Escambray rebels were in some way connected with him, Was the CIA involved? One cannot say for certain. if Morgan was involved with the CIA then we might assume the CIA was involved in the Escambray effort."
The chief of staff of the Cuban army was to be married, and Morgan took a woman's bag made of frog skins to the chief's office as a gift for the bride. As Morgan entered the office, he was seized and disarmed. He was then imprisoned. The following day an item in the official daily Revolucion reported that "Comandante William Morgan has been using military trucks under his command illegally to transport food and ammunition into the Escambray Mountains." The paper said that Morgan had been arrested for counter-revolutionary activities.
Morgan was sent to the dreary, dreaded La Cabana prison across the bay from Havana. He would rise at dawn, do calisthenics, then march around the compound shouting commands at himself. When it was time for his trial, he went to it singing, "As the caissons go rolling along." Morgan was found guilty and sentenced to death.
But the famed guerrilla leader was not without teeth. According to an account that later surfaced, Morgan was smuggled a Colt .45 pistol by a visitor. Morgan knew that Castro occasionally visited the prison. Cuban intelligence wanted information on the Escambray revolutionaries from Morgan. Morgan refused to speak to anyone but Fidel Castro about the subject. Castro visited the prison and approached Morgan's cell. The cell door was solid, with a small window. Castro said, "Morgan, what do you want to tell me?" and Morgan replied, "If you come here I will tell you all I know." Castro would not go inside Morgan's cell, and Morgan was unable to draw him into the line of fire. Apparently, Morgan thought to wait for another chance, and so he kept the pistol concealed. The pistol was allegedly found during a search of his cell after Morgan was shot.
There are two versions of the story of Morgan's death. In those days, prisoners to be executed were not told when they were going to be shot. They would be taken out of their cells to undergo further "routine interrogation" or "to go to the dentist," only to suddenly find themselves facing a firing squad.
According to one version, on March 11 Morgan was marched out of the cell at La Cabana and stood against a dry moat. Fidel and Raul Castro were present. It was 2:30 A.M. Lights were beamed on Morgan.
As Morgan's hands were being tied behind his back, a voice shouted from behind the lights, "Kneel and beg for your life!" Morgan shouted back, "I kneel for no man!"
Not a firing squad but a single marksman was used. He sadistically put a bullet through one of Morgan's knees, then another through the other knee. Morgan fell to the ground cursing the communists. "There!" exulted the voice. "You see, we made you kneel!" The rifleman put a bullet through one of Morgan's shoulders, then took his time putting a bullet into the other. Finally, a merciful captain walked up to Morgan and ended his agony by emptying a magazine from his Tommygun into the American's chest.
The other version of Morgan's execution had Morgan embrace the commander of the firing squad immediately prior to his execution, to show he held no grudge against the man doing his job. The symbolic act, if it occurred, added to Morgan's stature as a brave commander to many of the ritualconscious Cubans.
In this version, as told to the authors by a foreign national who served fourteen years in Castro's prisons after fighting for the revolution, Morgan then embraced each member of the firing squad, letting them know he held no grudges against them for doing what they were ordered. Morgan refused a blindfold and refused to die on his knees, as ordered. Two men in the firing squad were ordered to shoot Morgan in the legs to force him to his knees, but the bullets failed to strike bone. The rest of the firing squad finished him off standing up.
Whichever version is true, it is apparent that Morgan won additional respect from his friends and opponents alike in the brave way he faced death.
Three years earlier, shortly after coming to Cuba, Morgan had sent New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews a "credo" titled "Why am I here." Morgan had written, "I cannot say I have always been a good citizen, but being here I can appreciate the way of life that is ours from birth. And here I can realize the dedication to justice and liberty it takes for men to live and fight as these men do whose only possible pay or reward is a free country....
"Over the years we as Americans have found that dictators and communist [sic] are bad people with whom to do business yet here is a dictator who has been supported by the communist and he would fall from power tomorrow if it were not for the American aid. And I ask myself why do we support those who would destroy in other lands the ideals which we hold so dear?"
William Morgan fought and died in a foreign land, but he was never anything
other than an American.