William Alexander Morgan

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William Alexander Morgan
William Alexander Morgan.jpg
Born (1928-04-19)April 19, 1928
Cleveland, Ohio
Died March 11, 1961(1961-03-11) (aged 32)
Havana, Cuba
Nationality U.S.A.
Occupation Revolutionary
Years active 1957–1961
Known for Commander of the Second National Front of the Escambray

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 as part of Second National Front of Escambray, 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.[1]

Life before Cuba[edit]

Morgan was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Alexander Morgan and German-American Loretta Morgan (née Ruderth).[2] Raised in an affluent Toledo neighborhood, he dropped out of high school and was often in trouble with the law.[3] 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.[2]

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.[3] After his discharge from the Army, Morgan apparently also worked for a local crime syndicate.

On May 11, 1954, Morgan married Ellen Theresa May Bethel, a snake charmer, in Miami. They had two children, Anne Marie (1955) and William A. Morgan Jr. (1957).[2][4]

Cuban Revolution[edit]

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)[2] that operated against Batista's soldiers in the Escambray Mountains in central Cuba.[3]

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:[4]

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.[5]

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.[4]

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.[4][6]

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.[7]

Post-revolution activities and execution[edit]

Morgan married a Cuban, Olga María Rodríguez Farinas, also a revolutionary, they had two daughters.[3] In August 1959, the FBI and American authorities revoked Morgan's U.S. citizenship.[8] On September 24, 1959, Morgan renounced his U.S. citizenship publicly on a Havana radio station.[8] After the revolution, Morgan developed a business of frog farming; with the legs being sold to restaurants, the skin for fashion accessories, and what remained for cattle feed. During this venture, Morgan would employ around 600 workers and ship an average of 50,000 pounds of frozen frog legs to the U.S. every month.[8]

On March 6, 1960, the French freighter La Coubre exploded in Havana Harbor killing around 100 people.[9] An American named Jack Lee Evans, who was in Cuba at the time of the explosion, left for Miami a few days after the incident. While in Miami, he gave an interview with the Miami Herald suggesting that Morgan had been involved with the sabotaging of the ship, which Morgan adamantly denied. A memorial for the explosion was held a few days later. Morgan would be pictured arm and arm walking through the streets of Havana during this memorial with prominent Cuban leaders including Castro and Che.[8]

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. In the middle of June 1960, Morgan and a select few former Escambray leaders met to discuss Castro's turn towards socialism and protecting the Revolution.[8] As the arrests of Morgan's former rebel comrades for counterrevolutionary activities started to increase, Morgan organized weapons to be smuggled to the counterrevolutionaries in the Escambray.[10]

Arrest and Execution[edit]

William Alexander Morgan in prison, Havana, Cuba. 1961

On October 16, 1960, Castro ordered Morgan's arrest due to counterrevolutionary activities. Three days later, Morgan was arrested while attending a meeting for the National Institute for Agrarian Reform, to which he had been summoned. Morgan was formally charged with plotting to join and lead the counter-revolutionaries who were active in the Escambray Mountains.[11] On March 11, 1961, shortly after a military trial at La Cabana prison, Morgan, then 32 years old, was shot by firing squad with Fidel and Raul Castro in attendance.[2][11] One month later, 1,500 CIA trained counterrevolutionaries would unsuccessfully invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs resulting in Castro officially declaring the Revolution a Socialist endeavor.[10]

His wife was tried with him in absentia. She was found guilty of co-conspiracy and sentenced to 30 years in prison.[3] 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.[3] 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.[3]

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.[12]

Morgan in pop culture[edit]

Morgan's story remained largely out of the American eye until the 21st century when articles, documentaries, and films introduced his story. In 2012, George Clooney planned to buy the rights and direct a film based on David Grann's 2012 New Yorker article on Morgan.[13] Pulitzer prize-winning reporters Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss authored the book, "The Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of Courage, Passion and One American's Fight to Liberate Cuba."[14] Morgan was featured in 2015 on the PBS documentary series American Experience with the episode titled American Comandante.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The others were Che Guevara, an Argentine citizen, and Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, a Spanish citizen.[citation needed]
  2. ^ a b c d e Grann, David (28 May 2012). "The Yankee Comandante". The New Yorker. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Micheal Sallah, "The Yankee Comandante," The Toledo Blade", March 3-4-5, 2002
  4. ^ a b c d New York Times: "A Fighter with Castro," August 15, 1959, accessed June 25, 2012
  5. ^ Miguel A. Faria Jr., Cuba in Revolution—Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002), 69
  6. ^ New York Times: "Trouble for Castro," August 16, 1959, accessed June 25, 2012
  7. ^ New York Times: "Castro's U.S. Aides Out," September 6, 1959, accessed June 25, 2012
  8. ^ a b c d e Shetterly, Aran (2007). The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba's Freedom. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. pp. 209–254. ISBN 9781565124585.
  9. ^ "La Coubre: Explodes in Havana 1960". Cuban Information Archives. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Grann, David (May 28, 2012). "The Yankee Comandante". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Varona, Arnoldo (May 16, 2012). "The American Comandante in the Cuban Revolutionary Forces: William Morgan". The Cuban History. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  12. ^ Amy Driscoll, "U.S. reclaims citizen who led Cuban rebel fighters," Miami Herald, April 13, 2007
  13. ^ Puchko, Kristy (November 2012). "George Clooney to Direct Biopic the Yankee Comandante". Cinema Blend. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  14. ^ "The Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of Courage, Passion, and One American's Fight to Liberate Cuba". Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  15. ^ "American Comandante". PBS. November 17, 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2017.

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