Local remembers Bay of Pigs Invasion

Published 4:22 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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It has been 56 years since the Bay of Pigs Invasion took place between the United States and Cuba.

Fifty-six years seems like a long time, but it has been even shorter than that since Frank Atkinson of Jemison has been able to talk about the circumstances surrounding the event.

He was a sonar technician aboard the U.S.S. Murray at the time of the invasion.

According to Atkinson here were three or four U.S. ships and seven boatloads of about 1,500 Cuban exiles that were old merchant ships.

“Before we escorted them in, we had the numbers painted over on the side of our ship and flew no flag,” Atkinson said. “We didn’t want anybody to know who it was.”

The precautionary measures taken were examples of the high-pressure situation that Atkinson and his fellow crewmates were about to find themselves in the middle of.

The ships could only get within a quarter of a mile from the shore, because the water was only so deep.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs were originally devised by the CIA along with the oversight of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, plans underwent changes, once John F. Kennedy became president.

“We had orders directly from JFK to not fire unless fired upon,” Atkinson said. “We had a carrier sitting out there with all kinds of planes on it ready to help, but we couldn’t do it.”

The Invasion took place in April 1961 and lasted about 30 days, many of which the U.S.S. Murray acted as a hospital ship that serviced the exiles that had been wounded.

“We would go out at sea a couple of miles and a helicopter would come to pick them all up and take them to the carrier,” Atkinson recalls. “We did that for about a week and a half.”

None of those involved could talk about the events and what they saw, as it was designated as classified information.

“When we came back in, there were all kinds of reports on T.V., and they had no idea what was going on,” Atkinson said. “They brought us in at midnight when nobody was around and we had to sign an oath that we would never divulge anything about what happened.”

For 40 years, Atkinson could not mention the invasion to even his closest friends and family members.

“You’ve thought about it there for awhile,” Atkinson said.

The information was eventually declassified in 2001, since then multiple books have been written about the Invasion and mention Atkinson’s ship, as the true details began to surface.

“Some of the schools still don’t talk much about the Bay of Pigs,” Atkinson said. “It was just a hush-hush operation.”

Atkinson calls Chilton County home and spent about 12 years as the park ranger at Higgins Ferry.