Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Own T-Shirt Hero - The Forgotten Story of a Bay of Pigs Pilot

My Own T-Shirt Hero: The Forgotten Story of a Bay of Pigs Pilot
July 22, 2014
Clive Rudd Fernández (Cafe Fuerte)

HAVANA TIMES — I recall I was around 10 years old when my father used to
take me from one ministry to the other to collect his salary. It could
have been the Ministry of Sugar or Transportation. He didn't work at any
of them, but he would collect his full salary there every month. In
fact, he didn't work anywhere. He was paid on instructions from the
Ministry of the Armed Forces.

That situation was difficult for me to understand. To me, a
14-year-old-child, my father was a Cuban hero and a pilot of the Armed
Forces who risked his life for the country.

When I'd ask him something like, "Dad, what you know about sugar?", or
"Why do you get paid by the Ministry of Transportation if you don't work
there?", he would reply with that cold, fixed gaze that characterized
him. "It's because Diocles is here now." Then, he would turn away from
me so as not to look me in the eyes and wince. That was his way of
saying that was an "awkward question" and that I shouldn't ask another.
I had a lot of respect for him, so I would zip my lip immediately.

With "Diocles", he meant Minister Diocles Torralba, a former officer of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces. One of his tasks was seeing to the needs
of the hero who had been chewed up and spat out by the revolution –
Douglas Rudd, my father.

As a teenager, I began to realize that a number of episodes were missing
from my dad's story. My old man, who wasn't very talkative (much less
boastful), never spoke about planes or about his air combat at the Bay
of Pigs or his involvement in Cuba's Vietnam campaign.

From time to time, I would gather the courage to ask him when he would
take me flying with him. Without looking at me in the eyes, he would
always say: "One of these days." Later, I would find out he hadn't flown
in years and would never do so again in his life.

The Douglas Plane

The void of my father's silence was gradually filled by the anecdotes of
his friends, who would tell me of his feats in the Air Force, about how
he played a crucial role as war pilot during the Bay of Pigs invasion
and his work as one of the military advisors the Cuban government had
sent to Vietnam during the war.

They told me that, after being promoted up the ranks of the Air Force,
he began to question decisions made by the high command and that the
revolutionary leadership had given him a number of warnings, telling him
to forget about his ideas and proposals and to follow the "strategy
traced by the revolution and Fidel."

Around 1968, my father, disillusioned with the Castro government,
tendered his resignation to begin flying as a civilian pilot with Air
France, where they had spoken to him about a job.

No sooner had rumors of his resignation began to circulate than he was
detained for having "sensitive documents" at home. According to some of
the old pilots I've spoken to, those national security documents were
nothing other than flight manuals for some of the planes they were
piloting at the time and it was routine to have copies at home to go
over the technical specs of the plane.

Following a summary trial, he was sentenced to 30 years at Havana's La
Cabaña prison. He broke out of there by sea with two common inmates.

Waiting for Celia Sanchez

Many years later, my mother told me of the terrible days she spent at
the State Security's Villa Marista, where she was interrogated for hours
about my father's whereabouts, while still pregnant with my younger
sister Yvonne.

While my mother was being tortured psychologically by the Ministry of
the Interior, a police and military detachment was mobilized across
Havana in search of the missing hero.

My father had set up camp outside the home of Celia Sanchez Manduley,
Fidel Castro's assistant, to demand an explanation for what the
revolution was doing to the country and to him.

When they found him, Celia had his prison sentence commuted and he was
sent home. From that point on, they strictly forbade him to work
anywhere in Cuba. The island's sole employer, the Cuban government, had
condemned him to a virtual house arrest. He would remain in this
situation for more than 25 years, until he was able to leave the country.

Years after having his sentence commuted, a high-ranking Air Force
(DAAFAR) pilot showed up at his house in Vedado to tell him that Army
General Raul Castro wanted to decorate him on April 17, during the
commemorative ceremony for the 25th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs
invasion. My father kicked him out of the house, yelling a number of
rude things at him. So many years without being able to have any kind of
job had destroyed his meager "social skills."

In the 1980s, I had the impression that my father had become delirious.
One day, he said to me: "The Soviet Union is going to fall to bits and
no one's going to cry over it. Fidel Castro is going to turn Cuba into
Haiti and no one's going to stand in his way. Try and get out of this
country while you still can. There's no future here, neither for you nor
any young person in Cuba who isn't willing to submit to Fidel completely."

In one of his last ravings, he said to me: "Clive, the Brigadier General
and head of Cuba's Air Force Rafael del Pino came to see me to tell me
he was planning on fleeing the country in a two-engine Cesna and asked
me whether I wanted to go with him. Of course, I said no. I'm sure it's
a trap to send me to prison again."

Of course, I didn't put much stock in that rumor and thought that, in
addition to delirious, my father was also becoming paranoid. But then,
through Radio Marti and other unofficial channels, I heard of the
desertion of General Rafael del Pino and his family in 1987. Several
years later, when I took out my private pilot license in England, I
would fly with Rafael del Pino over the outskirts of London and I would
finally confirm that he had indeed invited my father to leave the
country with him. The paranoia they had injected into his DNA had made
him miss the boat.

The Hero's Image

My father was finally able to leave Cuba in 1990. He died two years
later in the home of one of the pilots he had fought during the Bay of
Pigs invasion. He had become reconciled with his combat enemies, but not
with his past.

After leaving Cuba in 1992, it would take me fifteen years of coming to
terms with my past and country to go back.

In one my trips in 2008, I traveled to Cuba with an English friend of
mine who was a journalist for The Independent. I told him that, like
many men of his generation, my father had given his life and youth to
the revolution, and that many of these people had been devoured and
thrown out the window by that same, insatiable beast they helped create,
that they were now among the country's enemies.

We did a basic tour of Havana's Revolution Museum and made our way to
the Bay of Pigs exhibit. There, I was surprised to see that my father,
Douglas Rudd, a man who had been decorated and defenestrated by the
revolutionary New Man, had his name inscribed on the wall as one of the
heroes of that battle. After having destroyed and swallowed up the man,
they had decided to leave behind the image of the hero, because it sells
ideas and T-shirts at a museum and Havana's tourist areas.

I continue to remember my father as I pictured him when I was a child,
when I would imagine him flying, risking his life and going to battle
for just and important causes – as a man of great courage. I've been
telling my children, from a very early age, that T-shirt heroes do not

Source: My Own T-Shirt Hero: The Forgotten Story of a Bay of Pigs Pilot
- Havana -

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