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Today is the Day

It was the morning of April 17, 1961. We had been training for this day for about a month now, gathering Intel, and doing some cautious planning on how the attack would fold out. The United States Navy was my home, and this ship was my vessel. Joined with Cuban exiles, we were called to the mess hall. They said over the intercom that President Kennedy was giving a live announcement to the whole U.S. military. As we entered the mess hall, the room was very packed and crowded. As the president began to speak, the mumbling among the hundreds of soldiers and exiles stopped. “Today is the day”, Kennedy said. By then, we all knew. We were going to war. Us pilots were addressed that we would be the first to invade Cuba. Our mission was to raid several Cuban airports in attempt to deplete the Cuban air force. After, I headed back to my bunk to write. I often wrote to clear my mind but mostly to vent and write important things down. Suddenly there was a knock a few minutes after I got there. Captain Williams was at the door. He came in and said, “Lieutenant Bates, you and three other men under my command will be joining me to be the first invaders of Cuba, so gear up and get whatever you think you might need. “We take off at 07:00.” “This is it”, I told myself. I’ve been training for this my whole life. I was born to be a pilot and that’s what I’m about to do. As I got suited up I was thinking about the possible things that could happen while I was flying, we were trained not to think of such things. I had a horrible feeling in my stomach, as if something was wrong. At 06:00 we were called to our battle stations. I went to the equipment room, where I met the three other pilots that would be part of my team. After we got suited up, we went to the briefing room where Captain was sitting at a table with four other chairs. He briefed us on the ins and outs of the mission and told us that we were at high risk of being shot down. He handed each of us a special device that we activate if we are about to crash. The thought of being captured by Cuban military didn’t sound too pleasant.

As 07:00 crept up, we were all as nervous as a mouse in the claws of a hawk. The feeling of being in that jet is like no other. You feel so powerful. The time has come, I was in the back of the pack. As I watched my three mates take off, I realized we were going to war. We were about an hour out of Cuba in the Atlantic, about eighty miles from the coastline of Florida.

As we flew over the beaches to enter Cuba it was night time. We could see the firefights below and the explosions of grenades and bombs being dropped. We were about ten minutes outside of the Cuban Air Force base when suddenly explosions started happening just below us. They were shooting grenades and rockets at us from below. So many things went through my mind at this point. One of my fleet had been hit. I saw him eject, at that point I knew this was getting serious. I radioed back to base to confirm that they knew we had one man down. As soon as I did that, I realized I had been hit by a fifty caliber round on my right wing and I was slowly losing fuel. I turned around and tried to get as far into the ocean as I could. I ejected into the ocean about a mile off shore. I started swimming as fast as I could, knowing I was just behind enemy lines. My radio was damaged by the crash so I had no way to contact base. I had two options, potentially drowned trying to swim as far from shore as I could and hope that I get rescued by one of our seal teams, or I could swim to shore. I laid in the water for about an hour trying to figure out which option was best. By that time I was dazed, I was thirsty and noticed I was bleeding heavily from my right thigh. My choice was to swim back to shore, because I figured we had fought our way far enough inland that I wouldn’t be captured by the Cuban military.
I was wrong. The next thing I knew I was hit over the head with the butt of an AK-47. I woke up in what I believed was a P.O.W camp. I was told by a Cuban refugee wearing U.S. navy clothes that there was no hope left. We had lost the short war.





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