Fighting for Florida

Honoring The Bay Of Pigs Veterans

Mr. President, on April 17, 1961, 1,500 individuals from the United States and Cuba valiantly volunteered in the Bay of Pigs mission to liberate Cuba from Fidel Castro’s grip. They were a diverse group from all backgrounds of Cuban society, all united by the ideal that freedom is a God-given, inalienable right.

Having lost their country a couple of years earlier, these brave men took up arms on the beaches of Playa Giron. Over the course of four days and facing daunting odds against a better-armed and trained Cuban military, nearly 100 members of the Brigada de Asalto 2506 (Assault Brigade 2506) lost their lives, including 4 American pilots. Five others were captured and executed. The majority were captured and imprisoned for many months and years in inhumane conditions.

Many of the captured men were fortunate to be eventually released and exiled to the United States, where they re-started their lives, raised families and made it their life’s ambition to give their children the opportunities they would not have.

I am proud to join my colleagues in the U.S. Senate in paying tribute to the survivors of that mission – several of whom made the journey to Washington this week – and honoring the memories of the deceased.

As the son of Cuban exiles, I am proud to represent an entire community of people who lost everything to an accident of history, but came to cherish the freedoms they found in America. The story of the Brigade 2506 veterans, in particular, is worthy of special recognition.

To some, the Bay of Pigs battle is just one episode in the long annals of the Cold War. But to those involved, the mission was a defining moment in their lives that, for others, illuminated the righteousness of the cause to free Cuba. It is a heart-breaking story of men who fought so valiantly for their beloved homeland’s freedom, only to come up short. But it is also an inspiring story – one that says as much about their resilience as it does about America.

Having endured a traumatic life experience fifty years ago at the Bay of Pigs, many of them came back to the U.S. with nothing – not a penny and often without any English skills. They went to work and embraced America’s blessings, but they never forgot their beloved homeland.

Some made it their life’s work to promote the cause of a free Cuba. Others went to work on other endeavors to provide for their families, but dedicated countless hours as faithful volunteers of the cause. In doing so, they served as teachers to an entire community. Today in Miami, for example, a Brigade 2506 monument and museum now exist as much to commemorate these heroes as it does to educate others.

Like so many Cuban exiles, their stories taught us that human rights and liberty are not conditional on where someone is born, but are instead the birthrights of every single one of God's children. They taught us why the Cuban condition, like everywhere else in the world where human rights are trampled, is inhumane and unnatural. They instilled in us a deep sense of why the Cuban government – and others like it – are fundamentally defective and illegitimate, as it is sustained by violence against its people and operates without the consent of the governed.

Over the past fifty years, these lessons have given us moral clarity about the rights of man and reminded us of our responsibility to defend the persecuted among us.

Far from being forgotten, their example has inspired others to carry on their work. Their legacy lives on among those of us who have followed in their footsteps by making their cause of a free Cuba our cause.

Today, the torch they lit fifty years ago on a Cuban beach, is now carried not only by their children and grandchildren, but also by a new and growing generation of Cubans on the island. Every day, thousands of courageous patriots are demanding their freedoms and steadily chipping away at the farce of the Castro regime. Together, we are all united by the moral responsibility to highlight the Cuban regime's continued abuses, to apply change-inducing pressure, and to support the Cuban people's right to freely shape their destinies.

Courageous and principled leaders like these give us hope that a free Cuba is an inevitable destiny. They also give us hope that soon we will be able to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s December 1962 promise to surviving Bay of Pigs veterans that their battle flag “will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana.”

The above text was submitted by Senator Rubio for the Senate Record.