Bay of Pigs endures as source of Cuban pride

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Playa Giron, Cuba: For Cubans, however, this pleasant beach is more than a garden spot for holidays. Forty-four years ago, it was the scene of a raging 60-hour battle in which Fidel Castro's newly minted revolution vanquished a band of Cuban exiles armed and trained by the CIA and sent to sweep the upstart Communist leader's regime out of Cuba. "All Cubans come here," said Ivan Torres, 30, a construction worker who recalls making trips to Playa Giron and the nearby Bay of Pigs as a schoolboy. "It is the proudest place in our history, the place we saved our revolution from the Yankees."

The limited access and isolated location apparently seemed a perfect combination for the invasion planners, who hoped the force of about 1,400 Cuban exiles, armed with several tanks, mortars and heavy trucks topped by .50-caliber machine guns, could establish a beachhead that would inspire Castro foes across the island to join them in rebellion.

But the April 17-19, 1961, invasion was a dismal failure and a terrible embarrassment for President John F. Kennedy. It helped spawn the Cuban missile crisis the following year and cemented the growing hostility between the United States and Cuba that has now hardened into a four decade-old standoff.

The road leading to the beach where the invaders landed is lined with cement monuments engraved with the names of Cubans who died in the battle. Near the beach is a museum packed with captured weapons and displays in which yellowed newspaper clippings and photographs outline the events.

Historians have blamed the outcome on Kennedy's failure to send in U.S. air power to support the ground force.

But Cubans insist it was their superior fighting skill and spirit that won the day.

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