Castro’s death brings to mind something I hadn’t thought of for years. I was working at WFGA-TV in Jacksonville in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when Castro was taking over Cuba. I was also flying small airplanes all over Florida. I’ve always loved flying, and FL was a great place to fly for a number of reasons. There were tons of training fields left over from WW-II so if you should have engine trouble you were almost always within gliding distance of a safe landing spot, unless it happened when you were over a city. And if you got lost you simply flew east or west and you would run into an ocean so you could orient yourself. And, landing on the beach was not frowned on in those days.
I got my flying license in a Piper J3 Cub and then I bought a WW-II surplus PT-26, a low wing, 200 hp, two place aircraft for $900. I put another $300 into repairs on it and then I flew it all over the state and made some long trips in it. I flew out of Craig Field on the east side of JAX but often made a short hop over to Herlong Field to do some coffee drinking and “hanger flying” with the guys who hung out there.
On one of those trips I noticed (you couldn’t avoid them, they were so big) a lineup of nearly a dozen brand new Corsairs. The Corsair was a beautiful fighter plane that primarily operated off aircraft carriers and in the Pacific theater of WW=II where they flew from air strips hacked out of the jungles. All the Corsairs at Herlong had their ID numbers removed and there were no U.S. Navy or Marine IDs on them. Of course, I was curious about those big Corsairs but the operators of Herlong Field were close-mouthed about them. They dismissed them as just being temporarily parked there. On subsequent trips to Herlong, there had apparently been so many questions about the Corsairs the field operators put up a sign by the door – No, the Corsairs were not for sale, No they were not “rentable” and No they were not at liberty to answer any more questions about them.
Well, okay then. That was a challenge. Being a nosy guy I sought out some government types I knew through contacts at the TV station. Finally I found out about the Corsairs, which had mysteriously disappeared on my next flight into Herlong.
The Corsairs were part of the CIA’s involvement with Castro’s revolution. A group of American mercenaries (pilots who were in WW-II) were recruited and hired by our CIA. Then they flew the Corsairs to Cuba to aid Castro in his takeover of that nation. I was sworn to secrecy by my informant (who was one of the pilots hired by the CIA and who is dead now) and have not until this day revealed that story. Like most of the CIA’s work, it didn’t turn out like they planned. I suppose, for our aid, Castrol was expected to be more “friendly” to the U.S. It didn’t work out that way, did it? As far as whatever happened to the Corsairs eventually, I have no idea.