Deep Cover / Shallow Graves: Stories and Flashbacks

The Cubans and an old Power Plant—CUBA, 1958

Not far from the Cuban cane fields was an old abandoned runway. It was short and muddy—perhaps too short for our overloaded Twin Beech aircraft to take off. 

I sat in the cockpit, anxiously waiting for the penetration crews’ arrival, thinkingabout my situation: Here I am in this old, dilapidated airplane, deep inside Cuba, waiting for a bunch of idiot Cuban rebels to blow up a power plant that was never working in the first place, wondering if the engines on this old airplane will start. 

In the distance, I heard an explosion. That was the signal. The crew will be arriving shortly. I looked at the battered windsock near the end of the abandoned airfield. It pointed straight down, limp. There was no wind to help with the takeoff run. Yes, it was going to be a difficult takeoff, at best. 

I was a long way from Fort Bliss, Texas, and El Paso. How I got here, inside Cuba, I wasn’t sure. It just happened. There have been many weird happenings around me lately—strange things just popping up out of the clear blue—dangerous sinister people, strange faces, exotic places, and crazy love affairs. 

Yes, memories of Fort Bliss, Texas, were a long way back—Love Field airport and the one-horse town of Dallas, Texas, was even further. That early life in Northeast Texas was now a distant memory. CUBA? Well, that was another matter. Cuba was always in my thoughts and dreams.

The rumbling sound from the distant explosion disappeared, replaced with the chatter of small arms fire getting closer. I knew Batista’s army goons were chasing the penetration crew. We could have been wounded. I was one scared pilot. 

Sweating, hands shaking, I reached for the start button on the number one engine. The engine was running rough when we left Marathon Key. I wished I had never shut the engines down. I wasn’t sure they would start when I needed them. Shutting the engines down was a stupid mistake—perhaps, even a fatal error.

I thought about Christina, the Lady Saboteur. I wondered if she had cleared the power plant after the explosion and was running through the mountainous jungle trail, struggling through the cane fields, racing toward the aircraft. 

I forced the thought from my mind and pushed the start button on the number one engine. The engine cranked, but nothing happened. The prop just windmilled, going around and around. Round and round, the propeller turned. I moved the throttles forward, nothing. I adjusted the mixture and checked the boost pumps, nothing. The prop just kept turning, but the number one engine refused to start. Nothing seemed to work.

It was a hot, humid day. Nothing was going right. I could feel the cold breath of Batista’s firing squad on the back of my neck. I wondered what it would be like to stand before a Cuban firing squad. Would I stand tall, as I had seen in the movies? Or would I whimper and squirm like a blabbering coward. I saw myself as the blabbering coward.

I glanced out the cockpit window. The rebel demolition team was running along the jungle trail, dashing through the cane fields. They were running like hell, trying to reach the aircraft. I pushed the start button again. The starter was hot. I was frantic as the engine cranked, but the propeller was turning much slower. I was losing battery power. Worse yet, I was losing my mind. In panic mode, I pushed the button again. Then on the last turn of the propeller, the last ounce of battery juice, the engine kicked once, then kicked again—And then again. Thank God! – The engine slowly limped to life. Thick blue smoke rolled in billowing waves toward the rear of the aircraft. The number two engine sprang to life on the first crank. I was one happy pilot.

The power plant demolition crew, gasping for breath, jumped one by one on board—literally dragging and pulling each other into the aircraft. We were moving into the wind—what little wind there was—before cargo kicker Sickie Rick had closed and locked the doors.

We bounced down the crude, muddy, runway, slowly gaining takeoff speed. The number one engine was rough but turning positive power. That’s all we needed. All I had to do was get us off the ground and clear Cuban airspace; then, I could shut the rough engine down and ditch us in the ocean if we had to. However, if all went well, we would be out of Cuban airspace and back to Marathon Key by dark. 

My mind was absorbed with the task of flying the aircraft—and thinking of ‘The Lady Saboteur,’ but she was not onboard. I wondered where she was. I thought about her all the way back to Marathon Key. The non-operational power plant was totality destroyed, blown to hell.

When I returned to Miami, Frank Bender and Rex Beardsley, my two CIA case officers, debriefed the crew and me. During the debriefing, I learned to my dismay that the Cubans had blown up the wrong target. We would have to go back in with another crew tomorrow morning to demolish the right target, finish the mission, and save face with the Cuban underground. This time we knew Batista’s goons would be waiting.

Navigate To Other Tosh Articles . . .

  • Page 1: Growing Up Fast: Two Events I Witnessed
  • Page 2: The Cubans and an Old Power Plant (1958)
  • Page 3: A Cold War Incident
  • Page 4: “A Mechanical Monster”
  • Page 5: The Day Before that Dreadful Day
  • Page 6: The Lady Saboteur
  • Page 7: The Gringo and the Worms
  • Page 8: The Death of a Reluctant Skydiver
  • Page 9: A Bogey Over the Florida Straits
  • Page 10: I’m Too Young to be Shot
  • Page 11: The Last of the Mohicans
  • Page 12: Two Good Friends: A War Story

To Go to Tosh’s Novel Page “Thinking That is Out of This World” Click HERE

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