By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
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"Even then, Gustavo was a leader among the cadets," Garcia remembers.
Gustavo returned to Havana in 1952 to join his father's GM auto empire as a mechanic. For the next six years, he worked at car dealerships during the day and attended business classes at the University of Havana in the evenings. He lived with his parents at a palatial waterfront home in the Miramar neighborhood. It was among the first in Cuba with central air-conditioning.
On weekends, Gustavo traveled three hours to a sprawling farm where he cared for horses and helped with the harvest. He also played baseball and tennis and swam at a private club.
Salvador Miralles, another Bay of Pigs veteran, competed against Gustavo on baseball diamonds and tennis courts. Though Castro arrived in Cuba on the yacht the Granma in 1956 to jump-start revolution on the island, Gustavo wasn't concerned with politics, Miralles says. "[He] cared about getting drunk, chasing girls, racing cars," the five-foot-four-inch vet remembers.
Then rebels broke into a Villoldo dealership in Santiago during late 1958 and stole more than 20 cars. Twenty-three-year-old Gustavo crossed the country to survey the damage. Guerrillas stopped him eight times at checkpoints, and he returned home shaken.
A few days later, Gustavo joined his father at a top government minister's wedding. There he met President Fulgencio Batista and began describing the harrowing journey. Before he could finish, though, Batista's defense chief, General Francisco Tabernilla Dolz, burst out, "Don't believe this kid! It's not true."
Perhaps Batista should have listened. A few months later, in January 1959, Castro's forces glided into Havana. Gustavo Sr. was interrogated about his ties to the United States and Batista.
One day in late January 1959, Gustavo received a frantic call from his brother Alfredo. Dozens of bearded guerrillas had surrounded his home. Gustavo ran over. When he arrived, the guerrillas yelled, "That's the older Villoldo kid!" and threw him in the back of a Jeep.
For three days, the rebels interrogated Gustavo, trying to force him to implicate his father as an American agent or a traitor. The boy refused. Finally, he was released. The reason, he says: The rebels were disorganized and the prison wasn't yet controlled by Che Guevara.
Over the next two weeks, guerrillas frequently stormed the Villoldo home. They pointed machine guns at Gustavo, assaulted his mother and interrogated his father.
Before Castro's revolution, Villoldo GM dealerships turned an annual profit of $15 million, and the family owned homes in Miramar, Baracoa and Varadero, next door to the Kennedy family's property there.
The rebels wanted all of it. Guevara personally visited Gustavo's father twice. The second visit came on the morning of February 15, 1959. Gustavo was with his dad at the family's business headquarters in downtown Havana. Che and bearded guards entered his father's office and closed the door.
"I knew he was a murderer and a thug," Gustavo recalls in a gravelly Spanish drawl. "You can tell that just by how someone acts."
The visit deeply disturbed Gustavo Sr. That evening, he took his son on a walk along the waterfront. He said Che had issued an ultimatum: Either Gustavo Sr. could die and forfeit the family's fortune to the state, or it would be el paredón — death by firing squad — for his two sons.
Gustavo didn't know it at the time, but his father was saying goodbye.
The next morning, the boy awoke to his mother's frantic cries. He ran to the study and found his dad slumped over a spare bed. An empty jar of sleeping pills sat on the desk.
The young man wept. Then he vowed revenge. Che would die, and Castro would pay.
Gustavo strained against his parachute pack and the canvas straps holding him in the copilot's seat inside the narrow B-26 cockpit. He stared at the starboard wing, painted the red, white and blue of the Cuban flag. A three-foot torpedo filled with napalm hung there. It should have dropped to the ground by now.
"Try it again," Gustavo told the pilot, a tall American airman named Connie "Sig" Seigrist. Sig flipped the B-26 on its side and wagged the wing back and forth over the Bay of Pigs' aquamarine waters thousands of feet below. Though they tried desperately to dislodge the bomb, it wouldn't budge.
"We've got two options, Gus," Seigrist said, looking him in the eye. "We can bail out, or we can try to land this thing. If we land, there's a good chance we could end up barbecue."
It was April 18, 1961, and on the ground below, hundreds of Gustavo's comrades were dying as the botched Bay of Pigs invasion spiraled out of control.
Gustavo and Sig decided parachuting out would be more dangerous than landing with the napalm. Almost everyone who jumped from a B-26 midflight got sucked into the tail and crushed.
"Let's land it," Gustavo finally said.
As the plane angled west over the Caribbean, Gustavo pondered how he had ended up in this cockpit. He had escaped Cuba a month after his father's death by bribing his way into traveling papers and a flight to Miami. Within weeks of landing, he met other anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
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