Deep Cover/Shallow Graves (Part 3)

Unclassified Memories From an Old Declassified Pilot

Over the last several decades, during his spare time, Tosh wrote about his personal recollections of the events he experienced as a pilot contracted by various government agencies. Many of these were based on historic facts, while others reflected his “creative writing” skills as a budding novelist. These columns will present some of both genres.


An Insider’s Look at the Murder and Mayhem in Cuba, 1957-1963

Editor’s Note: The story below was, according to Plumlee, “a true part of history and reflects what some of our flight crews were associated with during the Cold War years with Russia [then the USSR].” The only inconsistency with the story, as reported elsewhere, is that the man who they say was the “traitor”— who had betrayed the freedom-fighters killed in “The Humboldt 7 Massacre” in 1957 — was actually a patsy, selected to replace the man called Marquisto. The real Marquisto did not die from a Castro firing squad in 1964, he actually died quite secretly, witnessed by only three other men, though in a much more spectacular fashion, two years before.

I boarded the aircraft and made my way to the cockpit. There were two passengers in the aircraft cabin, Marquisto, the Cuban traitor, and Carlos Rojas, the pilot Manuel Rojas’s younger brother. Carlos was sitting across the aisle from Marquisto, staring fiercely at him while sharpening a bayonet.  

I noticed Marquisto, Carlos’s prisoner, his hands tied tightly behind his back, his feet chained and bound. His broken nose and the blood streaming down his chin, dripping into small puddles on the aircraft’s cabin floor.  Sweating, shaking, and crying, Marquisto begged Carlos for mercy. Carlos shook the bayonet twice in Marquisto’s face, then laughed. He turned and looked at me, then smiled. After five long years of tracking Marquisto, Carlos now had the traitor secured, chained and bound.  Carlos was a happy Cuban.

As I passed, Marquisto looked at me with pleading eyes. I could feel him begging for me to do something, to help him in some way. But, unfortunately, there was nothing I could do.
Carlos, shaking the bayonet at Marquisto, speaking in Spanish, asked him a question.

“Do you remember Christina, my daughter, the lady saboteur? And Juan, my little brother?” Carlos paused, wet his lips, then continued. “I’m sure you do, my friend.” He held the bayonet up to Marquisto’s face. “This blade is for you, my friend. You will feel this.” He poked the bayonet at Marquisto’s chest, making sure he saw the shining blade. “Yes, before this day is over. You will feel this blade very slowly.” Carlos swung the blade in a complete circle near Marquisto’s throat, laughed, then slipped the bayonet back into a pouch hidden inside his boot.

When I got to the cockpit, I asked Manuel Rojas what was going on back there in the cabin. He pointed to the co-pilot’s seat.

“Sit down. Shut up and buckle up. It’s a Cuban family matter. Leave it to us.”

Rojas shouted, “Clear One!”.

I checked the left engine. “Number one is clear.”

The engines started, we taxied to the makeshift runway, turned into the wind, and took off from Cuba, flying northeast toward Florida’s Marathon Key.

The flights from Cuba, known in Miami CIA circles as ‘The Rooster Hop,’ were covert. Nevertheless, our flights made Cuba’s coastal patrols very nervous.

Captain Manuel Rojas, the pilot, and I, the co-pilot, in 1962 were CIA gunrunners, flying weapons and ammunition to the Cuban underground who were attempting to overthrow Castro’s Revolution.

I was concerned about how we would get Carlos’s — now our — chained and bound prisoner past Customs, into the United States. I knew his prisoner was not an American citizen. Captain Rojas was not concerned, so why should I be worried? Don’t get involved and do something stupid, I told myself. Just fly the damn airplane. Manuel had told me it was a ‘family affair. I wondered what he meant by that and he must have sensed it because he then began explaining the background to me.

After clearing Cuban airspace, we headed for South Florida’s Marathon Key. Rojas then told me the complete story and who was responsible for the death of his older brother Juan, Christina, his niece Carlos’s daughter, and other M-26-7 underground members. It was Marquisto.

Shortly after Castro came to power, the tide had turned for Manuel Rojas. At first, he believed in and supported Castro’s revolution until Castro’s policies changed in early 1960. It was then that Castro’s forces captured members of a résistance team who were fighting Castro. Some of the captives were Rojas’s past friends from Cuba’s 1957 pre-revolution, M26-7 movement. After a short bogus trial, the prisoners were sentenced to death by Castro’s revolutionary court. Within three hours after the court’s verdict, the prisoners were executed by a Castro firing squad.

Manuel Rojas’s political beliefs drastically changed after the execution of his friends. He rebelled against the July 26 Revolution and all it stood for. He despised Castro. He hated the Communists, and too, he hated Marquisto, the traitor.

Five years earlier, in 1957, Batista had received information from Marquisto — the same Marquisto, now chained and bound in the back of our aircraft.  He named members of the M26-7 underground and gave Batista’s army directions to their ‘safe house,’ which resulted in a raid on Havana’s Humboldt Street Apartments.

Major General Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar Revolution Leader Fidel Castro

Batista’s troops killed and captured many freedom fighters. Christina, Carlos Rojas’s daughter, Manuel Rojas’s niece, was one of the fatalities.  She was murdered while trying to escape the apartment complex because of Marquisto’s betrayal;

Shortly after the Humboldt Apartment incident, Batista’s Presidential Palace was attacked by remnants of the M26-7. Most of the résistance fighters, including Carlos Rojas, Manuel Rojas’s younger brother, and Manuel Rojas’s older brother, Juan, were captured.

Batista’s firing squad executed most of the captives there on the street.  They forced Carlos to watch the execution. After the executions, a Batista army Sargent handed Carlos Rojas a pistol and made him fire the Coup De Grace, the fatal headshot into Juan’s brain.

Batista had Carlos released from captivity to tell others who worked within Castro’s revolution what would be in store for them if they continued to fight against Batista. From that day forward, Carlos Rojas, Manuel Rojas’s younger brother, did everything he could to bring down Batista. Carlos eventually found Marquisto, the former Batista informant, the traitor responsible for his daughter and his brother’s death. The traitor was now secure on our airplane.

Because of the information received from informant Marquisto, Batista soldiers raided the Humboldt Apartment ‘safe house’. Christina was Carlos’s daughter. She was one of the five members of the M-26-7 killed while trying to escape the 1957 Humboldt apartment raid.  

Christina and her husband, Sergio, jumped from the second-floor window of the Humboldt apartment after Batista’s soldiers had broken down the door and entered the apartment, shooting their machine guns. Another Batista army squad, stationed at the rear of the complex, was there to prevent any escape.

When the Batista squad burst through the door, Sergio, wounded in the leg by the first shots fired from the Thompson submachine guns, tried to escape. Christina ran to the window. Sergio followed. Christina was the first to jump, Sergio followed. Sergio landed hard in the alley and broke his wounded leg. He tried to get up, but was shot dead, shot five times as he struggled to flee the chaotic scene.

Christina raised herself, dazed, and attempted to run, but the first burst of gunfire cut her down. Then, although gravely wounded, she tried to crawl to Sergio but was shot again by a Batista army Sargent.

She continued to crawl toward her husband. Batista’s soldiers kept firing. They laughed as they recklessly fired their Thompson submachine guns into Sergio’s twitching body. Their attention soon focused on Christina as she struggled to reach Sergio. One shot to the head fired by an army Captain, and Christina fell face down into the mud; in the alley she laid dead.

Two soldiers walked up to the bodies, firing their machine guns into the two freedom fighters. Then, an elderly lady holding a crucifix high in the air approaches the soldiers – begging them to stop firing their weapons into the lifeless bodies. They stopped, laughed at the older woman, made an obscene gesture, slung their weapons over their shoulders, and walked away toward two young people, handcuffed to a jeep. The captives, their heads bowed, noses bleeding, their eyes bruised and puffy, knew their fate. Their freedom fighting days were over. The soldiers would execute them, in public, at sunrise.

After the 1957 Humboldt massacre, Carlos tracked the informant Marquisto for five long years. His hatred for Marquisto continued to build more and more each day and each year. For five long years, that hatred inside Carlos flourished.

In the spring of 1962, with the CIA’s help, Carlos found Marquisto. He kidnapped him from a Havana street. And now, Marquisto and Carlos were on our airplane, both heading for south Florida—one bleeding, chained and bound, the other sharpening a bayonet, smiling at his prisoner.

Flying over the Florida Straights at four thousand feet, I noticed the door warning light suddenly came on. Someone had opened the rear cargo door. I glanced back into the cabin just in time to see Marquisto, chained and bound, leaving the aircraft. Carlos saw me watching. He threw up his hands and shouted above the roar of the engines.

“He had to PEE!” Carlos shouted. Manuel Rojas said nothing. He stared into the blue sky.

I turned the ADF radio to a Miami station.  They were playing “Poinciana.” I listened to the words. ‘Poinciana, your branches speak to me of love; pale moon casting shadows from above.’ I tried to concentrate on something other than the scene I had just witnessed. I saw my first murder. And it would not be my last.

Carlos brought fresh coffee to the cockpit. He looked me straight in the eyes, then handed me a cup of the hot brew. He gave the other cup to Rojas. After that, Carlos started talking to Rojas about the Miami Jai-Alai games and all the money he had lost betting on those games.

However, I saw him watching me from the corner of his dark Cuban eyes. For a brief moment, I thought I would be the next one thrown out of the aircraft.


March 1958: CUBA

Captain Manuel Rojas and I had just delivered weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to Fidel Castro’s rebels who were operating in the Serria Madre Mountains of Cuba. We had just cleared Cuban Air Space and were flying four thousand feet above the Florida Straits, heading northeast to Marathon Key, Florida, when Rojas suddenly called out.

“They got us!”

Slightly off our right-wing, two U.S. Air Force F-86 Saber jets from Homestead Air Force Base came sneaking up from behind us. They came alongside our C-46, almost touching our wingtips. They had us locked in.

One of the Saber jets drifted in closer to our left wing on Rojas’s side of the aircraft. The Saber pilot signaled for us to drop the landing gear. Rojas looked at the pilot, grinned, and then gave the F-86 pilot the one-finger salute. Rojas turned to me.

“Maintain this heading and altitude. I’ll deal with this guy.”

Rojas reached into his pocket and pulled out a nice fat marijuana joint. He held it up as an offering to the Saber pilot.

The jet pilot smiled, shook his head negatively. He again motioned for Rojas to drop the landing gear. Rojas gave the F-86 pilot a proper salute, and then again the one-finger salute, but did not give me the order to lower the landing gear. We continued onward toward the Florida coast and Marathon Key.

The ADF radio needle suddenly swung around, pointing toward “Swan Island.” A code song, ‘Moon over Miami,’ started playing in my headphones, signaling the coast was clear to enter the AIDZ- ‘Aircraft Identification Defense Zone.’ The F-86 pilot also received the same coded message. He gave Rojas a thumbs up, then a friendly salute. Both Saber pilots then departed – one banked hard left and the other hard right, each turning away, both disappearing into the wild blue. As quickly as they had appeared, the two Saber Jets disappeared.

The words “Moon over Miami shine on my love tonight” echoed in my headphones, indicating the coast was now clear. We could continue onward toward Marathon Key. In the distance, beyond the cotton-like clouds, I could see the faint evening lights of Key West, Florida.

Rojas leaned back in his seat and fired up the joint he had offered the Saber pilot. He offered it to me. I took it and inhaled a deep drag from the sweet weed.

 “You got it,” Rojas said. “Now take us home.”.

I corrected our heading and set a new course for Marathon Key. Then I took another drag from the Marijuana joint. I handed the joint back to Rojas. He took a deep-deep drag. When we arrived at Marathon, he was sound asleep.

Later that night, we had a couple of beers at Jack Tarr’s Resort Hotel on Marathon Key. Another mission was completed successfully. Tomorrow would be another day, another mission, another memory – and too, another marijuana joint.

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