How an island off SWFL’s coast played a pivotal role in Bay of Pigs invasion

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan
Published: Updated:
FILE: Cuban soldiers supported by T-34 tanks attacking near Playa Giron. April 19, 1961. CREDIT: Rumlin, via Wikimedia Commons.

An exclusive island, home to the wealthy, has a mysterious history. We went behind the scenes of Useppa Island, a 100-acre, private island that played an important role in preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

On a sunny day, the boat ride to Useppa is beautiful. But 60 years ago, one particular ride to the island was in the middle of the night, during a covert CIA operation. Agents shuttled Cuban exiles from Miami to an island in the middle of the Pine Island Sound.

“They would arrive in the dark and not have any idea where they were,” Bob Stevens said.

Stevens is a president of the board of directors for Useppa Island Historical Society. There, people can read about the Hollywood-like story. On June 2, 1960, the first group of men arrived.

MORE: Useppa Island Historical Society

“They gave them psychological tests, lie detector tests and physical tests and mental tests,” Stevens said.

Nearly 70 men went through the island.

“They tried to determine who would be a good fighter for them,” Stevens said.

Those chosen became Brigade 2506.

MORE: Brigade 2506: An Homage to Heroes of Freedom 

“Plaque that reads Bay of Pigs was a CIA-backed invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist government,” Stevens said.

But in the spring of 1961, as the men landed on Cuba’s beaches at the Bay of Pigs, the brigade came under attack. And the mission failed.

Years later, former fighters made an unbelievable discovery. They identified where they had been shuttled in the middle of the night for training.

“Two of the Cubans who had been here had been in the Bay of Pigs, came over in an airplane and figured out where they were,” Stevens said.

In 2003 and 2007, survivors from Brigade 2506 came back to Useppa.

“The boat landed on the dock in front of the Collier Inn, and the men and women, the survivors, started walking toward the Collier and people just started clapping,” islander Ginny Amsler said.

MORE: How do I get there? Cruise to Useppa Island 

Amsler will never forget talking to one of the men and his wife.

“They’d only been married maybe two weeks when he was brought over here to train and he was captured in the Bay of Pigs,” Amsler said.

We reached out to several members of the veteran’s association, but unfortunately no one returned to my calls. But before they were part of one of the most infamous battles in our history, they were farmers, lawyers, barbers, even a priest.

Today, people can read about some of those freedom fighters and the now declassified documents of that mission on the Bay of Pigs.

And it all started just miles off our coast.


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