FACES IN THE CROWD
William Alexander Morgan
On the morning of March 11, 1961, a fair-haired man in a ragged, dirty prison uniform was marched to an interior wall of El Cabana prison, made to stand before a post. The sun was just peeking over the stone walls of the old Spanish Fortress of St. Charles, which was perched on a hill top at the entrance to Havana harbor, but the execution ground was still in the shadows.
An officer offered to tie the prisoner to the post and give him a blindfold, but the sturdily built young man declined both, and stood erect in front of the post. The firing squad marched up and took its position in front of the wall. The prisoner looked the firing squad solidly in the eye and never quivered. The officer gave the order to fire, and the famed Yankee Comandante, William Alexander Morgan, slumped to ground, dead at 32 years old.
Morgan’s journey to the wall of El Cabana began in Cleveland, Ohio, where a troubled teenager who ran errands for the local mob, ran afoul of the law. In the 1930s, kids who couldn’t manage to stay out of trouble were often offered the choice of a prison sentence or an enlistment in the military. Morgan chose the Army, and soon was serving with the 35th Infantry in occupied Japan.
The young soldier showed a talent for weapons and explosives, but not much tolerance for discipline. He soon found himself in the stockade, headed for a dis-honorable discharge. Someone came and offered him the opportunity to volunteer for a dangerous mission in war torn China, and he jumped at the chance. Thus began a relationship with the dark side of the intelligence world.
Morgan was honorably discharged from the Army, but continued to disappear for months at a time with no explanation. He resumed his connection to the Cleveland mafia, but never rose above gopher. In 1957, he mysteriously disappeared from Cleveland, and turned up in Miami, expressing a desire to go to Cuba to join the rebel’s opposing Cuban dictator Flugencio Batista.
Apparently, someone with high level influence vouched for him, and soon he joined a guerilla band operating in the Escambray Mountains in Central Cuba. Morgan was brave, brash, and well trained in weapons and basic military tactics. He rose in the ranks after each engagement. His personal bravery won the respect of the hard fighting rebels, and soon he was placed in command of one of the main columns of Castro’s army.
In late December of 1958, Morgan’s command joined forces with another Comandante, Che Guevera, and on the last day of 1958, their combined army captured the city of Santa Clare, and twelve hours later Batista fled the country, and Fidel Castro rode into Havana in triumph. Morgan was hailed as a national hero.
During the heady days following the fall of Havana, Morgan began to notice the growing influence that Guevera seemed to exert over Castro. Che was an avowed Marxist, and made no effort to conceal his Communist leanings. Morgan was a superb fighter, but he was woefully lacking when it came to politics and backroom maneuvering.
In August of 1959, Morgan led his army in a successful defeat of an anti-Castro invasion, which was backed by the American mafia and Dominican strong man, Rafael Turjillo. He once again gained notice, both in Cuba and in the international press. A group of angry Senators and Congressmen who were supporting the counter coup, forced the U.S. State Department to revoke Morgan’s citizenship.
As Che’s influence with Castro increased, Morgan became more and more the leader of the anti-communist factions in the revolutionary leadership, and as such, Che had to remove his. He was accused of anti-revolutionary activities, arrested, and taken to El Cabana. After a quick trial behind closed doors, he was led to the post, and shot. His body was thrown into an unmarked grave, and his name was stricken from the history of the revolution.
He may have been erased from the history books in Cuba, but there were those in the U.S. Intelligence complex who never forgot William Alexander Morgan. In April 2002, two members of the U.S. House of Representative traveled to Havana and met with Castro. They asked that Morgan’s body be returned to the U.S., and Castro agreed. William Alexander Morgan was re-buried in the country he so faithfully served, with full military honors. In 2007, the State Department restored his citizenship.
The image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.newyorker.com
Tommy, I wonder what the outcome might have been had we been capable of moving forward with our plans to sell a P-51 to Castro in 1959 for the then munificent sum of $10,000 (they go for about a half million now). Hull Alpha Tau forever