The Bay of Pigs took place in April of 1961 and the details, as I remember them, are like this:
We were told around the beginning of April that they wanted to use the [USS] Independence to put on an air show for President Kennedy and since most of us from the detachment were still in the Squadron, they were going to use Det 41-60 for that. We left Norfolk on the Independence heading south and we thought we were going to pick up the President in Jacksonville. It kept getting warmer and warmer as we went south and Jax just isn’t that warm in early April. So we didn’t know what was going on except that we were a lot further south than Jax.
Also we weren’t doing any flight operations—supposedly so all the aircraft needed for the air show would be up and available for the show. We were even all issued new flight deck jerseys so we’d look good for the President. Then they told us that the air show had been cancelled but we didn’t head back north. I remember a note in the daily bulletin with the Plan of the Day that we shouldn’t speculate on where we were in our letters home—sort of a strange note. We had a fair amount of other ships along with us as we headed south; it wasn’t just us and our plane guard destroyers.
I can’t remember the specific dates but one day around 1600 we had a detachment meeting and LCDR Barrow, our OIC, told us that we were going to paint our aircraft; we didn’t understand why since they looked pretty good (we had painted all of them on our Med cruise). Then we found out how we were going to paint them; we needed to paint out all the English language markings and we were going to have help painting them. They mostly needed the detachment personnel to mask off anything like static ports and such that shouldn’t be painted. As I recall one of the aircraft got painted that night on the flight deck in a very short time with help from some other squadrons and even some of the ship’s company. The other two were painted the next day.
Since the numbers had been painted out we painted Roman numerals in the wheel wells I, II, III. And when they needed to be moved the announcements over the flight deck loud speakers referred to them as Gray Ghost one, two, or three. The air group started flight ops again, but the detachment wasn’t doing any flying. Another very interesting thing: about half the aircraft parked on the flight deck were armed with conventional weapons (no nukes) and they were just parked and not flying.
We got the word that all three of our aircraft were going on a mission and all three took off. As I recall our pilots even took their name tags off their flight suits and one of our pilots had extra ammunition for his survival pistol; he looked like Pancho Villa with two belts of ammo crisscrossed across his chest.
When the aircraft returned the camera magazines were unloaded as quick as possible (they were taking them out while the aircraft were taxiing forward to park—and we were the first 3 aircraft to land. I was helping the plane captain for one of the aircraft and got a look at the pilots map on his kneeboard as he handed his equipment down from the cockpit and it looked like a map of Cuba with a red line heading east and west on it. I’m guessing, but I’m pretty sure the 3 aircraft did a photo recon of a good part of Cuba.
It was shortly after that that we heard about the Bay of Pigs invasion. And it was after that that we collided with an ammunition ship (can’t remember its name) while refueling at night. Not long after that we headed back to Norfolk. [Update 4/21/2012: The ship in question was the USS Diamondhead. She came in at our aft portside lifeboat sponson as we separated from a tanker, I think it was the Neosho, after a night refueling operation. ---Ron Liston]
That’s what I remember. You can search the internet and find quite a lot about the Bay of Pigs invasion, but almost nothing about the US Navy being close by. I’ve always thought we were there to provide support to the invading forces but then, for whatever reason, they decided not to.
I knew (don’t remember how I found out) that some VFP-62 personnel had been awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for “Clandestine operations in the Caribbean,” but have no idea if Det 41-60 was involved or what dates were involved.
Frank W. Schrader
Webmaster's Note: The USS Independence (CVA 62) was awarded the Navy Expeditionary Service Medal for the period 19 Apr 1961 thru 29 Apr 1961.
Created on ... September 06, 2007