William Alexander Morgan
William Alexander Morgan (April 19, 1928 – March 11, 1961) was a United States citizen who fought in the Cuban Revolution, leading a band of rebels that drove the Cuban army from key positions in the central mountains, thereby helping to pave the way for Fidel Castro's forces to secure victory. Morgan was one of about two dozen U.S. citizens to fight in the revolution and one of only three foreign nationals to hold the rank of comandante in the rebel forces.
Life before Cuba
Morgan was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Alexander Morgan and German-American Loretta Morgan (née Ruderth). Raised in an affluent Toledo neighborhood, he dropped out of high school and was often in trouble with the law. Morgan joined the army after World War II and married Darlene Edgerton in 1946. The marriage was annulled after a year and a half. He was stationed with Company B, 35th Infantry, in Japan, where he fathered a son with a German-Japanese hostess named Setsuko Takeda. He went AWOL, was arrested, and escaped from custody by overpowering a guard. Recaptured, he was court-martialed in 1948, received a dishonorable discharge, and spent over two years in a federal prison.
He is said to have been skilled with firearms and was rumored to have been a Central Intelligence Agency operative, though there are no public records or witness interviews to support the claim. After his discharge from the Army, Morgan apparently also worked for a local crime syndicate.
Opposed to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, Morgan abandoned his wife and children and went to Cuba in 1957, joining a guerrilla force of the Second National Front of the Escambray (Segundo Frente Nacional de Escambray or SFNE) that operated against Batista's soldiers in the Escambray Mountains in central Cuba.
After distinguishing himself in a series of battles, he was promoted to the rank of comandante, leading his own column. In 1958, he wrote a statement that appeared in the New York Times to explain his participation in Castro's revolution, "Why I Am Here". It said in part:
I am here because I believe that the most important thing for free men to do is to protect the freedom of others. I am here so that my son, when he is grown, will not have to fight or die in a land not his own, because one man or group of men try to take his liberty from him. I am here because I believe that free men should take up arms and stand together and fight and destroy the groups and forces that want to take the rights of people away.
In December 1958, Che Guevara joined forces with Morgan's group and the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil guerrillas of the Escambray mountains. Together they captured the city of Santa Clara on December 31. Twelve hours later, Batista fled Cuba. Morgan and his men occupied the city of Cienfuegos on January 1–2, 1959.
In January 1959, he told a reporter that "all I'm interested in is settling down to a nice peaceful existence" but worried how U.S. authorities would respond to his military activities in Cuba. In March 1959, officials of the U.S. embassy in Havana warned Americans that participation in foreign military service could jeopardize their citizenship.
In August 1959, Morgan gained international attention when he helped smash a coup attempt orchestrated by Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo and others by pretending to lead the takeover while quietly divulging the plot to Fidel Castro in order to help the fledgling government.
In September 1959, the U.S. State Department revoked his citizenship, a move that was prompted by members of Congress who had supported Trujillo. Morgan promised to contest the action.
Post-revolution activities and execution
Throughout the struggle against Batista, Morgan was vocal about Castro's supposed anti-communist beliefs. When asked during interviews about Castro's political beliefs and where the new Cuban government was leaning, he remained firm in his belief that Castro was not a communist and that Cuba would become a capitalist parliamentary democracy.
As Castro began to reveal his socialist leanings, Morgan became disenchanted with the revolutionary government, as did other members of the SFNE, who wanted Cuba to restore elections.
Morgan was arrested in October 1960 and charged with plotting to join and lead the counter-revolutionaries who were active in the Escambray Mountains. On March 11, 1961, shortly after a military trial at La Cabana prison, Morgan, then 32 years old, was shot by firing squad.
His wife was tried with him in absentia. She was found guilty of co-conspiracy and sentenced to 30 years in prison. She was released after 10 years. She left for the United States in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift. In a series of interviews with the Toledo Blade in 2002, she admitted that she and her husband had begun running guns to anti-Castro guerrillas because he was opposed to Castro's pro-Soviet leanings. She also said she wanted Morgan's U.S. citizenship restored and his remains returned to the United States for reburial. The newspaper stories prompted two Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives, Charles Rangel and Marcy Kaptur, to travel to Cuba in April 2002 to meet Fidel Castro and ask him to return Morgan's body, and Castro agreed.
In April 2007, nearly 50 years after the government stripped him of his rights in 1959 for serving in a foreign country's military, the US State Department declared that Morgan's US citizenship was effectively restored.
- The others were Che Guevara, an Argentine citizen, and Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, a Spanish citizen.
- Grann, David (28 May 2012). "The Yankee Comandante". The New Yorker. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
- Micheal Sallah, "The Yankee Comandante," The Toledo Blade", March 3-4-5, 2002
- New York Times: "A Fighter with Castro," August 15, 1959, accessed June 25, 2012
- Miguel A. Faria Jr., Cuba in Revolution—Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002), 69
- New York Times: "Trouble for Castro," August 16, 1959, accessed June 25, 2012
- New York Times: "Castro's U.S. Aides Out," September 6, 1959, accessed June 25, 2012
- Amy Driscoll, "U.S. reclaims citizen who led Cuban rebel fighters," Miami Herald, April 13, 2007
- Abella, Alex, The Great American: A Novel, Simon & Schuster, 2000, ISBN 0-7432-0548-0
- Gibson, Joss, American Rebel, Alto Pico Publishing, 2012, ISBN 978-0957338807
- Shetterly, Aran, The Americano: Fighting for Freedom in Castro's Cuba, Algonquin Books, 2007, ISBN 1-56512-458-8
- Sallah, Michael and Weiss, Mitch, Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of Courage, Passion and One American's Fight to Liberate Cuba, Lyons Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-7627-9287-0
- American Comandante, 2015 episode of American Experience
- Interview with Aran Shetterly, author of The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba's Freedom on National Public Radio
- access to FBI files, photographs, artwork and extracts from the novel American Rebel
- Alfonso Chardy and Michael Sallah, "Yanqui" Rebel William Morgan's Saga in Cuban Revolution is Revived," The Miami Herald, January 4, 2009
- William Morgan: A Rebel "Americano" in Cuba
- "Cuba: Lost in the Shadows," a documentary in which William Morgan plays a key role.