Cold War along the 'Cactus Curtain'

By Kolb, Richard K. | VFW Magazine, January 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Cold War along the 'Cactus Curtain'


Kolb, Richard K., VFW Magazine


From 1954 through 1973, Latin America was a prime theater of the Cold War. Conflicts were waged from Guatemala in Central America, on Caribbean islands, to the tip of South America in Chile. These behind-the-scenes battles cost the lives of some 50 Americans.

They died along what became symbolically known as the "Cactus Curtain."

COLD WAR: PART XIX

America's anti-Communist crusade in Latin America actually dates back to the late 1920s in Nicaragua. U.S. intervention there was prompted largely by what the Associated Press called "the spectre of a Mexican-fostered Bolshevistic hegemony intervening between the United States and Panama."

Indeed, Moscow saw Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Sandino as a foot in the door of the Western Hemisphere. Sandino's ideology was a mix of Marxism and syndicalism. But his brand of radicalism was ultimately squashed.

Between 1927 and 1932, in 150 combats, U.S. Marines suffered 47 killed and 66 wounded in action. All told, some 22,000 Americans served there. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson said, "They left behind, in the end, a country peaceful and independent. It was a job well done."

That same job would be required at least eight more times over the next 20 years. But there was a 22-year gap between the campaign in Nicaragua and the next U.S. intervention in 1954.

GUATEMALA, 1954

When a left-wing regime came to power in Guatemala in 1954, the Eisenhower Administration assumed the worst. The President, believing that "agents of international communism in Guatemala" were bent on subversion and making it an "outpost of Communist dictatorship" in the Western Hemisphere, moved forcefully.

In mid-May, a 2,000-ton shipment of Czech arms reached the country. Within a week, a U.S. Navy quarantine was in place. CIAs Operation Success, led on the ground by paramilitary team leader William "Rip" Robertson, orchestrated the government's overthrow by exiles in June. Stationed off Guatemala for good measure was the USS Mellete with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, aboard. Next month, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing was ordered to stand off Central America. But the crisis soon passed.

BAY OF PIGS, 1961

Trouble in the nation's backyard "pond"-the Caribbean-prompted the next major military action.

In early January 1961, U.S. Navy vessels began taking up station off Cuba. By April 19, the invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro was under way at the Bahia del Cochinas (Bay of Pigs) on the island's southern coast: Cuban exile Brigade 2506 (some 1,300 men) had landed.

On scene for the operation was the carrier Essex escorted by the destroyers Conway, Cony, Eaton, Murray and Wailer, which were designated Task Force Alpha.

The diesel-powered sub USS Cobbler (SS-344), along with another sub of the Atlantic Fleet's Antisubmarine Development Force, were part of Task Force Alpha. So were the destroyer escorts Bache and Beale, according to veterans.

Aboard the Essex was VA-34, a jet fighter squadron called the "Blue Blasters" and 1,200 Marines. All told, some 6,000 U.S. servicemen covered the invasion, but were prohibited from intervening.

In addition, the CIA had recruited U.S. civilian aviators as pilots, navigators, radio operators and flight engineers to train Cuban exiles at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. They came from the Alabama and Arkansas Air National Guard.

Directly involved was the landing ship dock San Marcos (LSD-25) with a complement of 326 men. "Under the cover of darkness, we picked up a contingent of Cuban freedom fighters and transported them to the Bay of Pigs," recalled David M. Scott, a machinist's mate aboard the San Marcos. "One of the non-U.S. ships was sunk, but our vessel was not hit."

Yet U.S. ships came close to being hit. The Eaton led the invasion flotilla into the Bay of Pigs. It received fire from the beach, and was bracketed by two stray shells from Cuban tanks along the bay.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Cold War along the 'Cactus Curtain'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?