Exposing Cuba’s Role in the Vietnam War

Since the Biden administration is soon going to reverse all of President Trump’s strong sanctions on the Cuban regime, it is important to know the role Cuba played in the Vietnam War including the torturing and killing of American pilots in Hanoi and Havana. The Biden administration is going to return to the failed policy of the Obama administration, which consisted giving Cuba unilateral concessions in return of nothing, except more repression of the Cuban population and increased cooperation with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Some articles at least one book have been written on this subject. On February 10, 2015, John Lowery wrote an article in the Accuracy in Media website an article explaining the terrible role of communist Cuba in the killing and torturing Americans during the Vietnam War in Hanoi and Havana.  On May 18, 2016, Elmer Davis wrote an article titled “Cuba’s Vietnam War Involvement” that was published by the website bwcentral.org. On January 15, 2021, Dr. Pedro Roig wrote an article titled “No Limits to Cruelty” that was published in the website Cuban Studies Institute. A book was written In Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973, in 1999 by Stuart Rochester and Frederick Kiley explaining the same.

Cuban torturer of American pilots in Hanoi, Fernando Vecino Alegret, known as “Fidel,” later became a general and Minister of Higher Education. Shamefully, this criminal who killed Earl Cobeil, a Navy F-105 Pilot at the Zoo prison, was given visas by the State Department to enter America when he spoke at Ivy League universities, including Harvard and MIT.

Dr. Roig explained that Fidel Castro visited Hanoi in 1973 during the Vietnam War to demonstrate his public support to North Vietnam. For several years, Cuban communist military officers were involved in secret operations in that war. The most terrible one was the torturing of American POWs. Dr. Roig wrote that from July 1967 to August 1968, Cuban Captain Fernando Vecino Alegret (today a retired Revolutionary Air Force Brigadier General) “tortured American POWs in a savage interrogation known as the Cuban Program to crush the prisoners into total submission.”

In April 1999, the story of the torturing American POWs in Vietnam by Cuban communist officers was described In Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973.  

The immensely detailed 592-page book was written by Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley.  Drawing from memoirs, interviews, classified documents, and other sources, the historians provided the most sweeping view of American POWs since the return of the prisoners in 1973.

Amazon describes this book as follows: “Honor Bound, a collaborative effort researched and written over the course of more than a decade by historian Stuart Rochester and Air Force Academy professor and POW specialist Frederick Kiley, combines rigorous scholarly analysis with a moving narrative to record in unprecedented detail the triumphs and tragedies of the several hundred servicemen (and civilians) who fought their own special war in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1961 and 1973.”

“The authors address a gamut of subjects from the physical ordeal of torture and deprivation that required clarification of the Code of Conduct to the sometimes more onerous psychological challenges of indoctrination, adjustments to new routines and relationships, and mere coping and passing time under the most monotonous, inhospitable conditions. The volume weaves a winding trail through scores of prison camps, from large concrete compounds in the North to isolated jungle stockades in the South to mountain caves in Laos, while tracing political developments in Hanoi and Washington and the evolution of the “psywar” that placed the prisoners at the center of the conflict even as they were removed from the battlefield. From courageous resistance and ingenious methods of organization and communication to failed escapes and questionable conduct — “warts and all”— Honor Bound examines in depth the longest and perhaps most remarkable prisoner-of-war captivity in U.S. history.”

Dr. Roig pointed out that on November 4, 1999, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, then Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Economy and Trade, held a congressional hearing during which several American POW officers discussed in great detailed the brutal tortures inflicted upon them by Cuban communist torturers in Vietnam. The total submission behavior set by the Cuban communist psychopaths included making tape recorded statements to be published by the Communist propaganda media.

In his book Faith of my Father, the late Senator John McCain, a pilot POW in Hanoi, wrote: “In the Zoo, mass torture was a routine practice.  For a time, the camp personnel at the Zoo included an English-speaking Cuban, called “Fidel” who delighted in breaking Americans, even when the task required him to torture his victims to death.”

Dr Roig wrote the following: “On September 9, 1999, the Miami Herald offered the testimony of Air Force Colonel Ed Hubbard a POW in Vietnam who identified the leader of the Cuban interrogation team that tortured him: That’s the guy, Hubbard said, visibly shaken, as he held a picture of Cuban General Fernando Vecino Alegret.  “Fidel” was described by several POWs as being over six feet tall, young, muscular, with full command of English with American slangs and personal knowledge of many cities in the Southeastern United States from Miami to the Carolinas.  “Fidel has been identified by some of the POWs in the “Cuban Program” as Fernando Vecino Alegret.  Fernando Vecino Alegret lived in the United States for extensive periods of time, including Miami, and studied at the University of Alabama, until he joined the Castro’s guerrillas in 1958.  Today he is a retired brigadier general of the Cuban FAR.”

Navy F-105 Pilot Earl G. Cobeil was assassinated and is the worst case of torture recorded by debriefers in the “Cuban Program.” This picture was courtesy of his widow, Mrs. Cobeil.

The sight of Cobeil walking back from the torture chamber was a horrible experience.  The man could barely walk; he shuffled slowly, painfully. His clothes were torn to shreds.  He was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, dirty, black, and purple from head to toes.  The man’s head was down, he made no attempt to look at anyone.  He had been through much more than the daily beatings.  His body was ripped and torn; silvers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and there were what appeared to be tread marks from hose across the chest, back and legs. He reportedly died of these injuries on or about November 5, 1970. His remains were identified and returned to the United States on March 6, 1974.

For his extraordinary courage and fortitude in the face of savage torturing, Coronel Earl Glenn Cobeil received the President Air Force Cross Award (posthumously) for Extraordinary Heroism in Captivity.  He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Roig ended his article by writing the following: “The factual story of the excruciating pain inflicted by Cuban officers in Vietnam against American POWs is a gruesome testimony of the terrible punishment suffer by Cuban political prisoners in Castro’s chambers of torture. Throughout over 60 years of dogmatic intolerance thousands of Cuban freedom’s fighters faced this criminal system where there are no limits to cruelty.”

Both John Lowery and Elmer Davis wrote similar accounts on the little-known role of the bloody mass-murdering Cuban regime in the Vietnam War. They explained the following: “There is a great need to account the American servicemen captured in the Vietnam War and imprisoned in Cuban-operated POW camps. Of utmost importance is an accounting of the 17 American airmen captured in North Vietnam and then taken to Cuba for medical experiments in torture techniques.”

The communist Cubans had facilities, including a POW camp and field hospitals extremely near the DMZ, just inside North Vietnam. Meanwhile, Cuban torturer interrogators severely abused American capture pilots in Hanoi at a prison known as the Zoo. We know of these operations thanks to John Lowery, Elmer Davis, Dr. Pedro Roig, the book by Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, and reports of our POW who managed to survive and be repatriated during Operation Homecoming in 1973.

 After spending 2,221 days as a POW in Hanoi, Major Jack Bomar, a Zoo prisoner survivor, was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was later promoted to colonel. Jack Bomar retired from the Air Force on March 1, 1974 and died on May 21, 2009.

POW Earl G. Cobeil was assassinated by Fernando Vecino Alegret.

Elmer Davis wrote that after his release Major Jack Bomar, a Zoo survivor, described the brutal beating of Captain Earl G. Cobeil, an F-105F electronics warfare officer, by Cuban officer Fernando Vecino Alegret, known by the POWs as “Fidel.” Regarding Captain Cobeil, Bomar related that “He was completely catatonic. His body was ripped and torn everywhere…Hell cuffs appeared almost to have severed his wrists…Slivers of bamboo were imbedded in his bloodied shins, he was bleeding from everywhere, terribly swollen, a dirty yellowish black and purple [countenance] from head to toe.” To force Cobeil to talk “Fidel smashed a fist into the man’s face, driving him against the wall. Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of rubber hose from a guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man’s face. The prisoner did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. Again, and again, a dozen times, “Fidel” smashed the man’s face with the hose.”

Because of his grotesque physical condition, Captain Cobeil was not repatriated. Instead, he was listed as “died in captivity,” and his remains returned in 1974 (Miami Herald, August 22, 1999 and Benge, Michael D. “The Cuban Torture Program, Testimony before the House International Relations Committee, Chaired by the Honorable Benjamin A. Gilman, November 4, 1999.)

Major James Kasler flew 91 combat missions on a F-101 when his aircraft was hit and forced to eject on August 8, 1966. He was captured and spent 2,401 days in captivity.

For more than a month in 1967, Kasler was the target of nearly continuous daily torture. He received his third award of the Air Force Cross for resisting torture inflicted on him over a two-month period during the summer of 1968 to coerce his cooperation with visiting anti-war delegations and propaganda film makers.

Major Kasler described his worst treatment:

“My worst session of torture began in late June 1968. The Vietnamese were attempting to force me to meet a delegation and appear before TV cameras on the occasion of the supposed 3,000th American airplane shot down over North Vietnam. I couldn’t say the things they were trying to force me to say. I was tortured for six weeks. I went through the ropes and irons ten times. I was denied sleep for five days and during three of these was beaten every hour on the hour with a fan belt. During the entire period I was on a starvation diet. I was very sick during this period. I had contracted osteomyelitis in early 1967 and had a massive bone infection in my right leg. They would wrap my leg before each torture session so I wouldn’t get pus or blood all over the floor of the interrogation room. During this time, they beat my face to a pulp. I couldn’t get my teeth apart for five days. My ear drum was ruptured, one of my ribs broken and the pin in my right leg was broken loose and driven up into my hip.”

At one point, during the fall of 1967, Kasler’s guards took his clothes and his mosquito net. For three days, they denied him food and water and they beat his back and buttocks with a truck fan belt, every hour on the hour, 6 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. His torturer asked if he surrendered. Kasler finally gasped yes.

The guard Fernando Vecino Alegret nicknamed “Fidel” by the POWs returned to Kasler’s cell the next day and demanded that he surrender. Kasler refused and the beatings resumed and continued for another two days.

Kasler suffered a fractured rib, a ruptured eardrum and broken teeth. He was left with the skin hanging off his rear end down to the floor. His face was so swollen, it hung like a bag, his eyes almost shut. Kasler’s mangled and infected leg, which tormented him throughout his captivity and for years afterward, swelled to the point he feared it would explode. Major Kasler was severely tortured by Vecino Alegret but he somehow managed to survive the Cuban criminal’s torture.

Major Kasler was released on March 4, 1973 and treated in a hospital. He resumed his Air Force career and was promoted to colonel. He retired in 1975. Colonel Kasler died on April 24, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida and was buried with full military honors at Crown Hill Cemetery.  

Elmer Davis explained that there is less information regarding the 17 captured pilots taken to Cuba for “experimentation in torture techniques.” They were held in Havana’s Villa Marista, a secret Cuban prison run by Castro’s G-2 Intelligence service. A few were held in the Mazorra (Psychiatric) Hospital and served as human guinea pigs used in the development of improved methods of extracting information through “torture and drugs to induce American prisoners to cooperate.”

After being shot down in April of 1972, U.S. Navy F-4 pilot, Lt. Clemmie McKinney, an African American, was imprisoned near the Cuban compound called Work Site Five. His capture occurred while then-Cuban mass-murderer dictator Fidel Castro was visiting the nearby Cuban field hospital. Although listed as killed in the crash by DOD, his photograph standing with Castro, was later published in a classified CIA document.

More than 13 years later, on August 14, 1985, the North Vietnamese returned Lt. McKinney’s remains, reporting that he died in November 1972. However, a U.S, Army forensic anthropologist established the “time of death as not earlier than 1975 and probably several years later.” The report speculated that he had been a guest at Havana’s Villa Marista prison. His remains returned to Vietnam for repatriation. (United States paid big money for the remains—delivered in stacks of green dollars to Hanoi aboard an AF C-141 from Travis AFB, California.)

Captain Wayne Smith graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1965.

Captain Wayne Smith flew 69 missions over Hanoi and 21 over Laos. At age 24, on his 90th mission over Hanoi, his F-4D aircraft was hit by a missile and he ejected.

Captain Smith was captured and severely tortured during several weeks and then kept in solidarity confinement for two years. After the two terrible years in isolation, he was moved to the Hanoi Hilton prison. Captain Smith learned four languages and many other subjects from other POWs. Since he had studied German at the Air Force Academy, Captain Smith taught German to other POWs. All the POWs were released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973.

In April 2021, John Di Lemme interviewed Wayne Smith, now age 77, for the Conservative Business Journal television podcast.  It was very inspiring to hear this brave American patriot describing his five years and two months of brutal imprisonment and how his faith in God sustained him during those horrible years. Captain Smith explained that of the approximate 1,400 American pilots who were shot down during the Vietnam War, only 591 survived and today less than 200 hundred are still alive.

Unfortunately, many American pilots and other servicemen held in the Cuban POW camp near Work Site Five (Cong Truong Five), along with those in two other Cuban run camps, were never acknowledged nor accounted for and the prisoners simply disappeared. Our honor code of “Duty, Honor, Country” and our national policy of “No man left behind” are more than meaningless slogans.

Before the Biden administration begins its appeasement policy with the bloody Cuban regime, their murderous leadership must account for the American POWs—especially Earl Cobeil, who was murdered in Hanoi, and the 17 pilots taken to Havana who were severely tortured and so terrible disfigured that they could not be set free. All 17 were assassinated by the Cuban bloody regime.

Retired Brigadier General Fernando Vecino Alegret, who murdered Earl Cobeil in Hanoi and tortured severely many American pilots in Hanoi, needs to be indicted by a U.S. court. The rest of the Cuban communist murderers need to be identified and indicted. The civilized world, patriotic Americans, and specially our veterans demand it. 

It must be pointed out that many Cuban Americans fought in the Vietnam War in the different branches of the Armed Forces as soldiers and officers. Some were injured and died. Some are my close friends, including Bay of Pigs veterans.

Conclusion

President Lyndon B. Johnson was partially responsible for the needless deaths of the over 1,400 American pilots and for the over 50,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War. The horrible rules of engagement set by the Johnson administration prevented American pilots from destroying the Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) being brought by Soviet Union ships to the port of Haiphong in North Vietnam for fear of expanding war. If the Johnson administration wanted total victory, Haiphong, and any other ports where military equipment, especially SAMs and anti-aircraft weapons, were being sent to North Vietnam had to be destroyed. In war America needs to fight to win or not begin one. Limited wars, such as the one in Korea and Vietnam, should not be fought. There is “No Substitute to Victory” as General Douglas MacArthur said regarding the Korean War.

United States lost 205 aircraft shot by North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles. During the Vietnam war, the Soviet Union delivered 95 S-75 systems and 7,658 missiles to the North Vietnamese. In total, the U.S lost 3,374 aircrafts in combat during the war; in both North and South Vietnam. According to the North Vietnamese, 31% were shot down by S-75 missiles (1,046 aircraft, or 6 missiles per one kill); by anti-aircraft guns; and 9% by MiG fighters. The S-75 missile system significantly improved the effectiveness of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery, which used data from S-75 radar stations.

During the Vietnam War, President Johnson continued to trade with the Soviet Union materials he called non-strategic but in reality were utilized in the war directly or indirectly. It was shameful that while American soldiers, sailors, and pilots were dying and being injured, President Johnson kept selling materials to the Soviet Union that were killing these brave Americans. America could have won the Vietnam War, but the treasonous rules of engagement prevented it. This was dereliction of duty and treason!

It has always astounded me how much abuse America has endured since 1959 by the diabolical Cuban regime, including Fidel Castro playing an important role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If the American public would have been made aware of all the enormous crimes made by communist Cuba against America and its allies, Americans would have demanded an immediate regime change in the island. But the corrupt mainstream media and the communists in America, especially the Democrats in Congress and the White House, over the years were successful in keeping the public ignorant of the tremendous damage done by the Cuban regime to America and its allies.

How many Americans are aware that Cuba was deeply involved in the Vietnam War? How many know that the Cuban bloody regime had an engineering battalion called the Girón Brigade killing American soldiers and maintaining Route Nine, a major enemy supply line into South Vietnam? How many are aware the Cuban communist pilots flew Migs shooting at American pilots? How many are aware 17 American pilots were taken to Havana and so badly tortured and so terrible disfigured released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973 they could never be released and were assassinated? I suspect that very few know.

It is now time that Cuba’s role in the Vietnam War and all the atrocities and despicable human rights violations are well known by Americans and the world.

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