A Cold War Incident
The six passengers, the team, were very quiet. They were not talking. The usual victorious chatter, jubilant cheers, and celebrations after a successful mission were missing.
I observed each one as I made my way to the cockpit. They appeared troubled, downcast, worried. It was written upon their ashen faces. I knew they were deep in thought. Perhaps each one asking themselves where they had failed? They witnessed the assassination they were sent to prevent.
I continued to the cockpit. Sergio, my Cuban friend, sitting in the shadows in the back of the aircraft, caught my eye. In shame, he quickly looked away. Gator, the quiet Cuban, sat alone staring at the cabin floor, nonchalantly sharping his switchblade knife. Gator always carried a knife secretly hidden inside his boot. As I passed by, he looked up, shook his knife at me, then mouthed the words “Fuck-It.”
Charlie, ‘The Blade’ turned his back on me, then spat on the cabin floor. Carlos, my friend since the days of MIAMI-JM/WAVE, said nothing. His dark, haunting Cuban eyes said it all. The other two passengers, heads bowed in stoned silence, shuffled their feet. They did not look at me as I passed.
All onboard the DC-3 aircraft, ‘Galloping Sue–Number Two’, knew the mission had failed. The President of the United States was dead.
Manuel Rojas stared out the cockpit window. He said nothing as I slipped into the right seat and buckled up. We sat quietly for a moment staring out our cockpit windows, still shaken by the tragic event we had witnessed earlier in downtown Dallas Texas, at Dealey Plaza. Neither of us spoke about the sad event.
I turned from the window, checked the cockpit instruments, and prepared for takeoff. In a daze and a confused state of mind, I fiddled around with my seatbelt. I raised the seat up and down a few times but finally left it the way it was.
Rojas was watching me; his steely dark Cuban eyes made me feel uncomfortable. My hands were clammy, sweaty. They shook slightly. I thought about what Sergio and I had witnessed earlier at the Plaza. In my mind’s eye, I could see it all again—a replay in slow motion. I fought back the image the best I could, but I soon started to cry openly. Rojas said nothing, but I could tell he was disappointed with me.
Sergio and I had also failed the Dallas mission. We had let a shooter from the south side of the Triple Underpass near the south parking lot escape. In our confusion and stupidity, we allowed the shooter to escape from the crime scene.
After what seemed like an eternity, Rojas suddenly turned from the window. He shouted to the crew in the back of the aircraft.
“Buckle up! Let’s get the hell out of here!”
I pulled the pre-flight checklist from the seat pouch and commenced to read aloud. Rojas harshly interrupted before I had finished.
“CLEAR ONE! He shouted.
Confused, I raised in my seat, glanced over his shoulder, attempting to check the prop of the left engine for clearance.
“ONE CLEAR!” Then added, “I guess.”
Rojas pushed the number one start button. The engine whined, turned three revolutions, kicked twice, and then started. Thick blue smoke billowed from the exhaust as the engine looped to life. Rojas adjusted the throttle on the number two engine.
“Two Clear.” He violently hit the start button. The number two engine sprang to life. In silence, we taxied to the runway.
The flight out of Dallas’s Red Bird airport was a sad event for everyone on board. The takeoff was routine. After clearing Dallas airspace, we flew north toward Wichita Falls, Texas. After a few minutes, we circled back toward Dallas, heading south toward Houston, Texas, flying VFR, Visual Flight Rules, no flight plan filed or required.
We would refuel at Houston, Texas, on the Trans-Texas Airline side of Houston’s International Airport. The Texas Air National Guard’s tarmac would provide our cover. We would head east after refueling, back to Miami, Florida, and Coral Gables, for our dreaded JM/WAVE debriefing with Frank Bender and Wild Bill Harvey.
After takeoff, I briefly looked back in the cabin, observing the passengers. Tears started to roll down my cheeks. Rojas looked at me in disgust, then shouted.
“Button it up, asshole, and quit your sniffling. There will be no crying or weakness on this flight.” Rojas paused and looked out the cockpit window.
“I’ve got to take a piss.”.
Rojas pointed toward the altimeter.
“Maintain three thousand and hold steady. You fly this damn plane, or I’ll find someone who can.”
He moved the throttles slightly forward, readjusting the power.
“You’ve got it! Now fly it. Hold this heading. Call me if you need me.”
He unbuckled his seat belt, got up, and quickly left the cockpit. He was gone, leaving me alone with my thoughts and an airplane to fly. My mind was a maze of cluttered images and ideas. I tried to piece together the events leading up to this day. I ask myself. Where and when, for me, did it all start? What were the events that led me into this dreadful November day?
Many decades have now passed, and I still wonder what would have happened if Sergio and I had prevented the assassin’s escape from that south parking lot? Would it have changed history?
For over fifty years, that thought continues to haunt me.
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