Growing up in Florida and being of Cuban heritage meant that I often visited Miami to see relatives. Family reunions for Cubans were frequent, heart-warming, and complete with plenty of food! At these reunions I would see my two uncles and some of their friends. Both uncles were veterans of the Bay of Pigs battle - Miguel Reyes was a parachutist from the First Battalion and Augusto Maxwell was an infantryman from the Seventh Battalion of La Brigada de Asalto 2506 (Assault Brigade 2506). I grew up listening to their stories and those of their friends over the years. Between 1997 and 2006, I had the opportunity to interview the declining number of brigade members and record their experiences. Many of these men came from all walks of life, transcending race, economic and social class differences. They varied from those who served with Fulgencio Batista to those who fought with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra Mountains to those who were caught in the middle between the two factions. These diverse bands of brothers fascinated me. But to hear the suffering they endured during and after the battle was heart wrenching. One veteran, a teenager at the time of the conflict, described his experience in La Rastra, a refrigerated truck, where the captured brigadistas were stuffed to the point where it resembled a can of sardines. The men were crammed so tightly that those who died during transportation were still standing at the journey\'s end. The veteran's vividly recalled the heat and lack of breathable air in the truck, which forced him to make a hole on the side of the truck with his belt buckle and literally suck the outside air with his mouth through the hole. Upon arriving in Havana hours later (some estimates have the journey lasting as long as eight hours) at least a half a dozen brigadistas dropped out dead when the Cuban authorities opened the truck's back doors. The veteran has passed away since the interview and I feel very fortunate that I could record his memories for posterity.
In 1999 I had a rare chance of visiting Cuba (as part of a Cultural Exchange Program) to conduct some historical research and interview Bay of Pigs veterans that fought against the Brigade. There I had the opportunity to retrace some of the footsteps of the veterans that I had interviewed. Today, those Brigadistas still around are identifiable by a gold ring bearing the emblem of the Brigade that according to their lore First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy promised to the Brigade upon their return from Cuban prisons. Being interested in military history and its material culture also brought a wider interest in the history of the brigade and the uniforms and equipment used by them. Since my childhood I was often given mementos (photos, uniforms, insignia, etc.) by the veterans because of my interest in preserving their recollections.
These items gave me a firsthand knowledge of the Brigade's history. After seeing scant mentioning and often inaccurate information about what was worn and used during the Bay of Pigs propelled me "to set the record straight" by writing this book for Osprey.
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