The victory of Fidel Castro over Cuba's military dictatorship in 1959 and his subsequent turn toward socialism led to a decision within the Eisenhower administration to sponsor a secret invasion of Cuba designed to spark a rebellion on the island against Castro's rule. The game was to use Cuban exiles opposed to Castro as the invaders, with clandestine support from U.S. air and naval forces. The Alabama Air National Guard was among the few military units still using the World War II era B-26 airplane, also a staple of Cuba's air force. The Cuban invasion would use these bombers to make it appear Castro's own air force had turned against him. The CIA asked Alabama governor John Patterson to approve the use of volunteers from the Alabama Air National Guard as trainers who would not be involved in the invasion itself. As the 1960 campaign for president heated up, Patterson became an active supporter of John F. Kennedy. He eventually felt it incubent to advise Kennedy of the planned invasion in case it became an 'October surprise' giving vice-president Richard Nixon a last minute boost for his candidacy. As it happened, the invasion was postponed until shortly after Kennedy was inaugurated. Kennedy was reluctant to approve the mission and did so only after cutting back American air and naval support. Warren Trest, who has written a book about Alabama's role in what would be known as the Bay of Pigs invasion, tells us how Kennedy's curtailment of U.S. support allowed Castro's air force to retain air superiority, dooming the invason to failure.

Joe Shannon was a pilot who had flown in the Korean War and was a member of the Alabama Air National Guard. He was among those recruited by the CIA to help train the Cuban invaders. Although Governor Patterson had been assured that no Americans would be involved in combat missions, impending disaster at the Bay of Pigs led several Alabamians to volunteer for a last, desperate mission. Shannon describes the tragic result.

The Kennedy administration was determined that U.S. involvement in the mission be kept a secret. John Patterson reports on what was said to have been Attorney General Robert Kennedy's response when he found out that four Alabamians had been shot down over Cuba.

 

 

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