Jack Hawkins

Jack Hawkins

Jack Hawkins was born in Roxton, Texas in 1920. His family moved to Fort Worth and was a student at the local high school. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy as a second lieutenant he joined the U.S. Marines in 1939. He spent time at the Marine Corps Basic School for Officers before being sent to China where he served with the Fourth Marines in Shanghai.

Hawkins worked with Ray S. Cline, Richard Helms, E. Howard Hunt, Jake Esterline, Mitchell WerBell, John Singlaub, Paul Helliwell, Jack Anderson, Robert Emmett Johnson and Lucien Conein. Others working in China at that time included Tommy Corcoran, Whiting Willauer and William Pawley.

During the Second World War he was captured by the Japanese at Corregidor in the Philippines and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war. He escaped with several other Americans and two Filipino convicts who served as guides, and joined a guerrilla unit for seven months before getting to Australia via submarine in November 1943. In 1945 Hawkins was involved in the invasion of Okinawa.

After the war Hawkins served three years in Venezuela as adviser to the Venezuelan Marine Corps before returning to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Hawkins also took part in the Korean War and helped plan the battalion landing plan at Inchon. He then served for three years as an instructor on amphibious landings in Marine Corps schools. This was followed by a post at the Marine Corps school in Quantico.

Promoted to full colonel in 1955, he became commander of the Amphibious Forces at Little Creek, Virginia. In September, 1960, Colonel Hawkins was assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He joined the Cuba Task Force and was given direct responsibility for military training operations. Hawkins was told "that the CIA was planning to land some exile troops in Cuba and they wanted a Marine officer with background in amphibious warfare to help them out with this project.''

Hawkins served under Jake Esterline as Chief of Paramilitary Staff. Richard Bissell, the head of the Directorate of Plans, had appointed Esterline as Task Force Chief for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Esterline was also involved in the plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. In an interview he gave to Don Bohning of the The Miami Herald just before his death, Esterline admitted that Juan Orta, who functioned as Castro's private secretary, had been recruited to slip a poisoned pill into a drink. However, a few days before the invasion Orta changed his mind and fled to the Venezuelan Embassy.

When Esterline discovered that the assassination plot against Castro had failed he had serious doubts about whether the Bay of Pigs operation would be a success. Hawkins and Jake Esterline were also unhappy about the decision to change the landing site from Trinidad to the Bay of Pigs. On 8th April, Esterline and Hawkins went to see Richard Bissell and told him they wanted to resign. Bissell persuaded them to stay and be "good soldiers".

Primary Sources

(1) Jake Esterline was interviewed by Jack Pfeiffer about the Bay of Pigs operation (10th November, 1975)

We had no military. The military people I think came in consideration, when we realized that we were going into a fairly sizeable operation, one in which people available - or there weren't people available around - the agency necessarily - but everybody was getting a little older at that time and what not, so they had to look for people and a very special hunt was made for Jack Hawkins. I don't recall whether it was Dick Bissell, probably J. C. King or others that went to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and said, look, we want a man on detail, but we don't want you to just send somebody to us that you don't have a spot for, we really want a guy with eminent qualifications in this regard, and to the best of my knowledge, that is the reason that Jack Hawkins was selected, because of the experience he had during the Second World War, plus his rather distinguished Marine Corps record up to that point - I guess that it is only fair to say that that assignment cost him his General's Star and a good many other things in terms of his record.

(2) Jack Hawkins, Policy Decisions Required for Conduct of Strike Operations Against Government of Cuba (4th September, 1960)

1. Purpose:

The purpose of this memorandum is to outline the current status of our preparations for the conduct of amphibious/ airborne and tactical air operations against the Government of Cuba and to set forth certain requirements for policy decisions which must be reached and implemented if these operations are to be carried out.

2. Concept:

As a basis for the policy requirements to be presented below, it would appear appropriate to review briefly the concept of the strike operations contemplated and outline the objectives which these operations are designed to accomplish.

The concept envisages the seizure of a small lodgement on Cuban soil by an all-Cuban amphibious/airborne force of about 750 men. The landings in Cuba will be preceded by a tactical air preparation, beginning at dawn of D-1 Day. The primary purpose of the air preparation will be to destroy or neutralize all Cuban military aircraft and naval vessels constituting a threat to the invasion force. When this task is accomplished, attacks will then be directed against other military targets, including artillery parks, tank parks, military vehicles, supply dumps, etc. Close air support will be provided to the invasion force on D-Day and thereafter as long as the force is engaged in combat. The primary targets during this time will be opposing military formations in the field. Particular efforts will be made to interdict opposing troop movements against the lodgement.

The initial mission of the invasion force will be to seize and defend a small area, which under ideal conditions will include an airfield and access to the sea for logistic support. Plans must provide, however, for the eventuality that the force will be driven into a tight defensive formation which will preclude supply by sea or control of an airfield. Under such circumstances supply would have to be provided entirely by air drop. The primary objective of the force will be to survive and maintain its integrity on Cuban soil. There will be no early attempt to break out of the lodgement for further offensive operations unless and until there is a general uprising against the Castro regime or overt military intervention by United States forces has taken place.

It is expected that these operations will precipitate a general uprising throughout Cuba and cause the revolt of large segments of the Cuban Army and Militia. The lodgement, it is hoped, will serve as a rallying point for the thousands who are ready for overt resistance to Castro but who hesitate to act until they can feel some assurance of success. A general revolt in Cuba, if one is successfully triggered by our operations, may serve to topple the Castro regime within a period of weeks.

If matters do not eventuate as predicted above, the lodgement established by our force can be used as the site for establishment of a provisional government which can be recognized by the United States, and hopefully by other American states, and given overt military assistance. The way will then be paved for United States military intervention aimed at pacification of Cuba, and this will result in the prompt overthrow of the Castro Government.

While this paper is directed to the subject of strike operations, it should not be presumed that other paramilitary programs will be suspended or abandoned. These are being intensified and accelerated. They include the supply by air and sea of guerrilla elements in Cuba, the conduct of sabotage operations, the introduction of specially trained paramilitary teams, and the expansion of our agent networks throughout the island.

3. Status of Forces:

a. Air. The Project tactical air force includes ten B-28 aircraft currently based in Guatamala and at Eglin Air Force Base. However, there are only five Cuban B-26 pilots available at this time who are considered to be of highly technical competence. Six additional Cuban pilots are available, but their proficiency is questionable.

It is planned that seven C-54 and four C-46 transports will be available for strike operations. Here again, the number of qualified Cuban crews is insufficient. There is one qualified C-54 crew on hand at this time, and three C-46 crews.

Aviation ordnance for conduct of strike operations is yet to be positioned at the strike base in Nicaragua. Necessary construction and repairs at this base are now scheduled to commence, and there appears to be no obstacle to placing this facility in a state of readiness in time for operations as planned.


(1) The number of qualified Cuban B-26 crews available is inadequate for conduct of strike operations.

(2) The number of qualified Cuban transport crews is grossly inadequate for supply operations which will be required in support of the invasion forces and other friendly forces which are expected to join or operate in conjunction with it in many parts of Cuba. It is anticipated that multiple sorties will be required on a daily basis.

Maritime. Amphibious craft for the operation, including three LOU's and four LCVP's are now at Viaques, Puerto Rico, where Cuban crew training is progressing satisfactorily. These craft with their crews will soon be ready for operations.

The Barbara J (LCI), now enroute to the United States from Puerto Rico, requires repairs which may take up to two weeks for completion. The sister ship, the Blagar, is outfitting in Miami, and its crew is being assembled. It is expected that both vessels will be fully operational by mid-January at the latest.

In view of the difficulty and delay encountered in purchasing, outfitting and readying for sea the two LCI's, the decision has been reached to purchase no more major vessels, but to charter them instead. The motor ship, Rio Escondido (converted LCT) will be chartered this week and one additional steam ship, somewhat larger, will be chartered early in February. Both ships belong to a Panamanian Corporation controlled by the Garcia family of Cuba, who are actively cooperating with this Project. These two ships will provide sufficient lift for troops and supplies in the invasion operation.


Maritime assets required will be available in ample time for strike operations in late February.

Ground. There are approximately 500 Cuban personnel now in training in Guatemala. Results being achieved in the FRD recruiting drive now underway in Miami indicate that extraordinary measures may be required if the ranks of the Assault Brigade are to be filled to its planned strength of 750 by mid-January. Special recruiting teams comprised of members of the Assault Brigade are being brought to Miami to assist in recruiting efforts in that city and possibly in other countries, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. All recruits should be available by mid-January to allow at least four to six weeks of training prior to commitment.

The Assault Brigade has been formed into its basic organization (a quadrangular infantry battalion, including four rifle companies, and a weapons company). Training is proceeding to the extent possible with the limited number of military instructors available. This force cannot be adequately trained for combat unless additional military trainers are provided.


(1) It is probable that the Assault Brigade can reach its planned strength of 750 prior to commitment, but it is possible that upwards of 100 of these men will be recruited too late for adequate training.

(2) Unless U.S. Army Special Forces training teams as requested are sent promptly to Guatemala, the Assault Brigade cannot be readied for combat by late February as planned and desired.

(3) The Assault Brigade should not be committed to action until it has received at least four and preferably six weeks of training under supervision of the U.S. Army team. This means that the latter half of February is the earliest satisfactory time for the strike operation.

4. Major Policy Questions Requiring Resolution:

In order that planning and preparation for the strike operation may proceed in an orderly manner and correct positioning of hundreds of tons of supplies and equipment can be effected, a number of firm decisions concerning major questions or policy are required. These are discussed below.

a. The Concept Itself.

Discussion. The question of whether the incoming administration of President-Elect Kennedy will concur in the conduct of the strike operations outlined above needs to be resolved at the earlist possible time. If these operations are not to be conducted, then preparations for them should cease forthwith in order to avoid the needless waste of great human effort and many millions of dollars. Recruitment of additional Cuban personnel should be stopped, for every new recruit who is not employed in operations as intended presents an additional problem of eventual disposition.

Recommendation. That the Director of Central Intelligence attempt to determine the position of the President-Elect and his Secretary of State-Designate in regard to this question as soon as possible.

b. Timing of the Operation.

If Army Special Forces training teams are made available and dispatched to Guatemala by mid-January, the Assault Brigade can achieve acceptable readiness for combat during the latter half of February, 1961. All other required preparations can be made by that same time. The operation should be launched during this period. Any delay beyond 1 March, 1961, would be inadvisable for the following reasons:

(1) It is doubtful that Cuban forces can be maintained at our Guatemalan training base beyond 1 March, 1961. Pressures upon the Government of Guatemala may become unmanageable if Cuban ground troops are not removed by that date.

(2) Cuban trainees cannot be held in training for much longer. Many have been in the camp for months under most austere and restrictive conditions. They are becoming restive and if not committed to action soon there will probably be a general lowering of morale. Large-scale desertions could occur with attendant possibilities of surfacing the entire program.

(3) While the support of the Castro Government by the Cuban populace is deteriorating rapidly and time is working in our favor in that sense, it is working to our disadvantage in a military sense. Cuban jet pilots are being trained in Czechoslovakia and the appearance of modern radar throughout Cuba indicates a strong possibility that Castro may soon have an all-weather jet intercept capability. His ground forces have received vast quantities of military equipment from the Bloc countries, including medium and heavy tanks, field artillery, heavy mortars and anti-aircraft artillery. Bloc technicians are training his forces in the use of this formidable equipment. Undoubtedly, within the near future Castro's hard core of loyal armed forces will achieve technical proficiency in the use of available modern weapons.

(4) Castro is making rapid progress in establishing a Communist-style police state which will be difficult to unseat by any means short of overt intervention by U.S. military forces.

Recommendation. That the strike operation be conducted in the latter half of February, and not later than 1 March, 1961.

c. Air Strike.

The question has been raised in some quarters as to whether amphibious/airborne operation could not be mounted without tactical air preparation or support or with minimal air support. It is axiomatic in amphibious operations that control of air and sea in the objective area is absolutely required. The Cuban Air Force and naval vessels capable of opposing our landing must be knocked out or neutralized before our amphibious shipping makes its final run into the beach. If this is not done, we will be courting disaster. Also, since our invasion force is very small in comparison to forces which may be thrown against it, we must compensate for numerical inferiority by effective tactical air support not only during the landing but thereafter as long as the force remains in combat. It is essential that opposing military targets such as artillery parks, tank parks, supply dumps, military convoys and troops in the field be brought under effective and continuing air attack. Psychological considerations also make such attacks essential. The spectacular aspects of air operations will go far toward producing the uprising in Cuba that we seek.


(1) That the air preparation commence not later than dawn of D minus 1 day.

(2) That any move to curtail the number of aircraft to be employed from those available be firmly resisted.

(3) That the operation be abandoned if policy does not provide for use of adequate tactical air support.

d. Use of American Contract Pilots.

The paragraph above outlines the requirement for precise and effective air strikes, while an earlier paragraph points up the shortage of qualified Cuban pilots. It is very questionable that the limited number of Cuban B-26 pilots available to us can produce the desired results unless augmented by highly skillful American contract pilots to serve as section and flight leaders in attacks against the more critical targets. The Cuban pilots are inexperienced in war and of limited technical competence in navigation and gunnery. There is reason also to suspect that they may lack the motivation to take the stern measures required against targets in their own country. It is considered that the success of the operation will be jeopardized unless a few American contract B-26 pilots are employed.

With regard to logistical air operations, the shortage of Cuban crews has already been mentioned. There is no prospect of producing sufficient Cuban C-54 crews to run the seven C-54 aircraft to be used in the operation. Our experience to date with the Cuban transport crews has left much to be desired. It is concluded that the only satisfactory solution to the problem of air logistical support of the strike force and other forces joining it will be to employ a number of American contract crews.


That policy approval be obtained for use of American contract crews for tactical and transport aircraft in augmentation of the inadequate number of Cuban crews available.

e. Use of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.

The airfield at Puerto Cabezas is essential for conduct of the air strike operation unless a base is made available in the United States. Our air lease [base?] in Guatemala is 800 miles from central Cuba--too distant for B-26 operations and for air supply operations of the magnitude required, using the C-46 and C-54 aircraft. Puerto Cabezas is only 500 miles from central Cuba--acceptable, although too distant to be completely desirable, for B-26 and transport operations.

Puerto Cabezas will also serve as the staging area for loading assault troops into transports much more satisfactorily than Puerto Barries, Guatemala which is exposed to hostile observation and lacks security. It is planned that troops will be flown in from Guatemala to Puerto Cabezas, placed in covered trucks, loaded over the docks at night into amphibious shipping, which will then immediately retire to sea.


The strike operation cannot be conducted unless the Puerto Cabezas air facility is available for our use, or unless an air base in the United States is made available.

Recommendation. That firm policy be obtained for use of Puerto Cabezas as an air strike base and staging area.

f. Use of U.S. Air Base for Logistical Flights.

An air base in southern Florida would be roughly twice as close to central Cuba as Puerto Cabezas. This means that the logistical capability of our limited number of transport aircraft would be almost doubled if operated from Florida rather than Puerto Cabezas. Logistical support of the strike force in the target would be much more certain and efficient if flown from Florida.

There is also a possibility that once the strike operations commence, conditions would develop which would force us out of the Nicaraguan air base. Without some flexibility of air base with pre-positioned supplies in the United States, we could conceivably be confronted with a situation wherein the Assault Brigade would be left entirely without logistical air support. Supply by sea cannot be relied upon, for the Brigade may be driven by superior forces from the beach area. Such a situation could lead to complete defeat of the Brigade and failure of the mission.

It seems obvious that the only real estate which the United States can, without question, continue to employ once the operation commences is its own soil. Therefore, an air base for logistical support should be provided in the United States. This will offer the possibility of continued, flexible operations, if one or both of our bases in Guatemala and/or Nicaragua are lost to our use.


That policy be established to permit use of an air base in southern Florida (preferably Opa Locka which is now available to us and has storage facilities for supplies) for logistical support flights to Cuba.

(3) Don Bohning, Bay of Pigs, The Miami Herald (5th January, 1997)

Breaking a 35-year silence, the chief of the CIA's planning staff for military aspects of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion says the effort was doomed from the day, a month before the operation, when President Kennedy ordered the landing site changed to one that would attract less attention.

Jack Hawkins, a retired Marine Corps colonel, said in an interview that after he and his staff drafted the new plan, shifting the landing from the city of Trinidad, on Cuba's south coast, about 80 miles westward to the Bay of Pigs, he had "decided this plan has no chance. It is going to fail.'' He said efforts to convince superiors of that were of no avail.

What eventually became known as the Bay of Pigs began in January 1960 when the Eisenhower administration decided that Cuban leader Fidel Castro should be ousted, an effort Kennedy continued after becoming president. It evolved from sending in teams of agents to develop resistance, into a small guerrilla-type infiltration of 200 to 300 men to join existing guerrillas, and, finally, into a full-scale landing at the Bay of Pigs by a CIA-sponsored Cuban exile brigade of about 1,500 on April 15, 1961.

The hope was not for Castro's immediate overthrow but to seize a beachhead, generate morale problems and defections within the Castro forces and eventually provoke a general uprising.

Instead, the landing ended in disaster when B-26 air strikes reduced by Kennedy failed to knock out Castro's air force. Castro forces captured 1,189 exile invaders, 114 others died and 150 were unable to land or never shipped out. The captured invaders were ransomed by the Kennedy administration for $53 million in food and medicine. They returned to Miami on Dec. 23, 1962.

The paramilitary staff, which Hawkins headed, was responsible for organizing, training and equipping the Cuban exile brigade and preparing the plans for its landing in Cuba. Although staff personnel changed at times, said Hawkins, they averaged six U.S military and 18 CIA officers. Hawkins reported directly to Jake Esterline, the CIA's project chief for the invasion.

The interview with The Herald was the first Hawkins has given to a daily newspaper journalist since the Bay of Pigs, although he wrote a first-person article in the year-end edition of The National Review, a conservative journal published by William Buckley.

In the wide-ranging December interview at his home in Fredericksburg, Va., Hawkins also:

* Questioned Kennedy's commitment to the Cuba project initiated under President Eisenhower, based in part on Hawkins' own observations at Oval Office meetings.

* Speculated that the lack of commitment may have been partially due to parallel assassination plots against Castro, utilizing the Mafia, that had been undertaken by the CIA in 1960 separately from the Bay of Pigs and accelerated by the Kennedy administration. Bay of Pigs planners - with the exception of the late Richard Bissell, the CIA's director of clandestine services and the man in charge of the invasion - were unaware of the plots until they became public knowledge years later.

* Said that he and project director Esterline learned only recently from declassified documents that Bissell had agreed with Kennedy to cut the number of CIA-supplied B-26 planes from 16 - considered the minimum necessary to knock out Castro's air force on the ground - to eight, but he did not tell them of the decision until days later, on the eve of the first air attack before the landing.

* Placed the primary fault for the effort's failure "at Bissell's door.... It was really Bissell's operation.''

* Said that the State Department and Secretary of State Dean Rusk never received their share of the blame for failure of the operation by its continued obstruction.

* Noted that he wrote a still-classified May 1961 "after-action'' report on the Bay of Pigs failure in which he recommended against any further covert efforts against Castro because the Cuban leader was "now already too strong to be overthrown by paramilitary operations.''

Hawkins said he had remained silent all these years in part because "I was obligated by my oath of secrecy to the Defense Department and the CIA,'' and also out of concern about Castro retaliation against him.

"I didn't know what Castro's attitude might be, and I was wary of that,'' he said.

In addition, said Hawkins, "I was really disgusted. I thought the United States had acted in an almost contemptible way about this whole thing..I just sort of washed my hands of it and put it behind me, went on with my life and tried not to think about it. It was one of the most disappointing things that I ever had to do with in my life, professionally.''

He said he decided to speak out when the CIA's Esterline "got in touch with me (early last year) and said he thought it was time that we told the truth about some of these things''...

There were, he said, several "critical junctures'' in the operation when a "change of course by the decision-making authority at the CIA was called for if the Bay of Pigs disaster was to be avoided.''

Among them, he cites the change in the landing site and the reduction in the number of B-26 aircraft participating in the initial attack in advance of the landing - intended to knock out Castro's planes on the ground - either of which should have aborted the operation.

Hawkins has praise, however, for the brigade members, who he says "fought hard and well and inflicted terrible casualties on their opponents. They were not defeated. They simply ran out of ammunition and had no choice but to surrender. And that was not their fault.''

While Hawkins considers the air support critical to any chance of success at the Bay of Pigs, he believes failure became virtually inevitable a month earlier when Kennedy, acting on the advice of Secretary of State Rusk, rejected the Trinidad landing as too "noisy,'' one that would attract too much attention to the United States.

The initial plan, beginning in 1960, had been to introduce trained paramilitary teams, of a few men with special capabilities, into every Cuban province, which was done. Their purpose was to develop armed resistance wherever they could and engage in sabotage and propaganda operations.

Simultaneously, it was planned to organize a small infantry force of 200 to 300 men to be infiltrated in and join 800 to 1,000 guerrillas already operating in the Escambray Mountains of Central Cuba above Trinidad.

But, said Hawkins, as the Soviets increased their shipments of arms and military equipment and Castro began to create a large militia force, Bissell decided in the fall of 1960 "that he should have a larger force to get in there, and he hit on the figure of 1,500.''

It was not until early spring of 1961 that the brigade got up to 1,500 men, according to Hawkins, with Trinidad still the targeted landing site.

Word came March 11 that the president wanted a new, less "noisy'' landing site and a night instead of a dawn landing, as originally planned.

"We were very surprised when we got word that the president had vetoed the Trinidad plan, which we thought was the best and probably only place in Cuba where we had a chance to pull this thing off,'' Hawkins said. "It was a good plan, I thought, and we had no idea that it was going to be rejected because it had been discussed right on up to that time.''

Bissell, he said, advised him as they were standing in the corridor that the president had given four days to come up with a "quieter operation. He said this one is too noisy, too much like an invasion. Of course, it was an invasion.''

Working around the clock, Hawkins and the paramilitary staff pored over maps and intelligence reports, determining that the Bay of Pigs was the only alternate place an airfield could be seized that would support B-26s, a requirement.

Hawkins said he reported this verbally to Bissell, at the same time telling him what was wrong with the site, including its isolation and relative inaccessibility.

"Bissell said right then and there on the spot, without consulting anybody else, since this is the only place that satisfies the president's requirements, then we'll go ahead with it on that basis. You draw up a plan immediately, and we'll present it to the president.''

A sketch of the new plan was drafted, presented to Kennedy and approved March 15, a month before the landing took place.

"After we got to drawing the detailed plan,'' Hawkins said, ``I had time to do some careful thinking about the thing. Before, I had just been doing what I was told - get a plan. So we got it. But then I decided this plan has no chance. It's going to fail.''

Hawkins said he discussed his concerns with Esterline, the CIA's project director for the invasion, who said, "That's exactly what I think. It can't work. It's not going to work.''

He said they met with Bissell at his home in Georgetown the following Sunday and expressed their reservations.

Hawkins said the main purpose of the meeting was to insist that "if you want to go ahead with this operation at the Bay of Pigs, we want out. We just don't want to be part of a disaster, and that's just what it's going to be."

"We told him in no uncertain terms... He didn't give any indication at all that he was willing to give up the landing at the Bay of Pigs. He says, 'Look, you just can't desert me at this point. I won't be able to carry on without you.' Well, we di dn't like it, but we agreed.. we won't quit - not now, anyway. We left there thinking that we were headed for trouble, headed for disaster.

"But,'' said Hawkins, "it's a difficult thing for a Marine officer or a CIA officer to ask to be relieved of his duty. It's a serious thing to do and you don't like to do it, so we stuck with him, and the results you know.''

"The change of site was the critical thing that made it unlikely of causing the overthrow of Castro,'' Hawkins believes. "I always thought that it was going to take some time. If we got the brigade up into the Escambray (Mountains) and they could coordinate the other guerrillas up there and maybe get new forces, new people, out of Trinidad into the Escambray and then continue the air operations with Castro having no air, they could stay up there a long time.''

Hawkins' account differs somewhat from Bissell's, as recounted in his memoirs, Reflections of a Cold Warrior, published posthumously last year.

Bissell wrote that he remembered "meeting with Hawkins at the headquarters after a long weekend and his saying, Well, we have developed an alternative plan to meet the president's desire for a quieter landing and we think that you will like it and approve of it. We do, and I think in some ways it's better than the original.''

Hawkins says "that's a lie, absolutely false. Jake and I told him that the plan could not succeed, landing at the Bay of Pigs could not possibly succeed and was going to end in disaster. That's the word I used.'' Esterline recalls the meeting the same way.

Bissell did not mention the Sunday afternoon meeting at his home with Hawkins and Esterline, which most Bay of Pigs historians now consider a key event.

Bissell acknowledged in his memoirs, however, that ``there is no doubt that failure to question the viability of the move (from Trinidad) had serious repercussions.''

"They had no chance to escape out of the Bay of Pigs,'' Hawkins said. "We told Bissell that. I told him that. They can't get out of there. Maybe a handful or a few individuals could get out of there and sneak away, but the bulk of them were trapped there. They can't get out.''

As for Hawkins, the change in landing sites was just one more indication of Kennedy's lack of commitment to the entire project.

"I felt that he was not strongly committed to the operation at all. When he first was briefed about it and I began to observe him when I went to these meetings, he didn't seem enthusiastic about it, but he seemed interested.''

Hawkins describes the weekly White House meetings with Kennedy on the Bay of Pigs as "essentially discussions'' that "did not resolve questions of policy... As policy questions arise, they should be resolved decisively and quickly. This was not done for the Cuba Project.''

Much later, Hawkins said, when he learned "about the efforts that (Kennedy) and his brother (Attorney General Robert Kennedy) were making to assassinate Castro... it has occurred to me that Kennedy thought he was going to solve the problem by this method, disposing of Castro through the Mafia. And that would make the Cuban operation unnecessary, he thought.

"That's just a surmise on my part. That could have influenced him to delay. In fact, I have heard since, I don't know how reliable the information is, that the assassination was supposed to come off not long before the invasion.''

He also believes that Kennedy was unduly influenced by Rusk and the State Department.

"The first time I ever saw him (Rusk) at one of the presidential meetings, he made it abundantly clear that he was opposed to the operation completely. And he didn't want any air operations whatsoever.''

"I always felt that the Department of State came away from this thing without being blamed as much as they should have been blamed for what happened,'' Hawkins says now.

All of that said, Hawkins still places primary responsibility for failure with Bissell.

"I think that the primary fault must be placed at Bissell's door. It really was Bissell's operation. Mr. Dulles was just sort of on the fringes of this thing. He gave Bissell free hand to do what he wanted throughout this operation.''

The landing went ahead, and the invasion failed. Hawkins went back to the Marine Corps, but not before drafting an "after-action'' report on the operation that remains classified.

"It was very comprehensive, included everything that I knew about that was done, and drew some conclusions about it,'' Hawkins remembers. "I recommended among many other things that no further effort should be made to overthrow Castro in this manner, by these covert means, because he is now already too strong to be overthrown by paramilitary operations.''

(4) Don Bohning, Troubling questions still haunt legacy of Bay of Pigs, The Miami Herald (17th April, 1998)

Thirty-seven years later, as the Bay of Pigs fades into history, many questions have been answered by the release of long-secret documents and the increasing willingness of the few remaining central participants to talk.

But many of the answers raise other questions surrounding the ill-fated invasion of Cuba on April 17, 1961, by a brigade of 1,500 Cuban exiles trained and supported by the CIA.

Two of the most troubling, according to participants and analysts:

Was a failed Mafia assassination plot against Fidel Castro directly linked to the invasion? And, if so, did that detract from the invasion planning and execution?

Did a combination of ego and ambition cause the late Richard Bissell -- the man most directly responsible for the invasion as the CIA's chief of clandestine and covert operations -- to mislead both President Kennedy and Bissell's own planners?

Author Seymour Hersh, in his recent book The Dark Side of Camelot, a critical look at the Kennedy presidency, most persuasively raises the linkage between the invasion and an assassination plot that began under the Eisenhower administration.

Why was mission canceled? " One of Kennedy's most controversial and least understood decisions during the Bay of Pigs was the cancellation of the second bombing mission'' Hersh writes. "The assumption that Castro would be dead when the first Cuban exiles went ashore, and the fact that he was not, may explain Kennedy's decision to cut his losses. The Mafia had failed and a very much alive Castro was rallying his troops.''

Hersh quotes Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent and the link between administration officials and the Mafia for the assassination plot code-named ZR/Rifle, as telling him that "Taking out Castro was part of the invasion plan.'' Castro's murder, said Maheu, was to take place "before - but preferably at the time of - the invasion.''

The plot fell apart when Juan Orta, who functioned as Castro's private secretary and was to slip a poisoned pill into a drink, apparently got cold feet and took refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy a few days before the invasion. Orta died several years ago.

Kennedy, Hersh said in an interview, must have known by April 15 - two days before the invasion - and perhaps earlier, that the assassination plot had fallen apart and "he was in real trouble with the operation.''

The question then became, Hersh said, whether Kennedy should "take a bath by going ahead with it or take a bigger bath politically if he stops it. If he stops it he takes a tremendous hit from the right.''

Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a nonprofit documentation center in Washington responsible for the recent declassification of hundreds of Bay of Pigs-related CIA documents, concurs that the question of linkage between the assassination and invasion is an intriguing one.

"The degree to which it (the assassination plot) was coordinated as part of the planning and whether the President actually knew about it and factored it into the decision-making process'' is a key question, Kornbluh says.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger insisted in at least two appearances at the Miami Book Fair last November that he did not believe Kennedy was even aware of an assassination plot against Castro.

If there was a link, key CIA planners for the Bay of Pigs invasion apparently were not aware of it. Jake Esterline, the Bay of Pigs project director, says he learned of the assassination plot by accident when he was asked to approve an unexplained expenditure by the late J.C. King, then head of the CIA's Western Hemisphere division.

"I really forced my way in by refusing to pay unless I knew what I was paying for,'' Esterline said in an interview. "That got me partially briefed.''

Esterline said he was sworn to secrecy and didn't even tell Jack Hawkins, a retired Marine colonel who headed the Bay of Pigs paramilitary planning staff. Hawkins did not learn about it until long after the failed invasion.

Esterline now believes there "is no question about it... if that whole specter of an assassination attempt using the Mafia hadn't been on the horizon, there would have been more preparation'' for the invasion.

He believes "Kennedy and his group were not prepared to support the operation and if Bissell and others hadn't felt they had that magic bullet (assassination), I don't think we would have had all the hairsplitting over air support.''

Esterline has no doubt that Kennedy knew of the assassination plot.

The questions surrounding Bissell arose in the spring of 1996 at a conference on the Bay of Pigs attended by former CIA officials, brigade members and academics, following release of documents to the National Security Archive.

Those documents and later information have convinced both Hawkins and Esterline, who worked for Bissell on the Bay of Pigs, that Bissell was not leveling with them and probably was not passing on their concerns to Kennedy over such things as a change in the landing site and air cover.

Hawkins cites a recently declassified briefing paper by Bissell to the President dated April 12, 1961, that he says "proves that Bissell had agreed with Kennedy several days before the operation began to cut the air support in half.''

Bissell didn't tell Esterline and Hawkins about the decision until the invasion.

"I am sure Bissell never made it clear to the President why it was necessary to eliminate Castro's air force before the landing,'' Hawkins said. `"I gave great emphasis to this... Bissell knew what the military staff's opinion was about this need but . . . Bissell never pressed it.''