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William Morgan (Sept 18 Miami Herald)


Tim Gratz
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ARTICLE ON WILLIAM MORGAN

FRONT PAGE, SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18 MIAMI HERALD

The envelope from the Department of Homeland Security arrived on a Toledo doorstep in July, a simple one-page note that held 45 years of unfinished revolution and unfulfilled romance.

Olga Morgan Goodwin read the words from her adopted government -- ''We will be addressing your concerns'' -- and dismissed them with a shrug.

'They are telling me, `Olga, wait another 20 years,' '' she scoffed. ``They are hoping I will go away.''

For more than two decades, Goodwin has cherished a hope: that the U.S. government would one day restore American citizenship to her late husband, William Alexander Morgan, the famous comandante yanqui of the Cuban Revolution who was executed by one of Fidel Castro's firing squads in 1961.

In March, after years of frustrated efforts, the former Cuban political prisoner took her case to the top. She wrote straight to President Bush -- and was rewarded July 19 by a response from Homeland Security officials.

Goodwin, who counts the Miami-based paramilitary group Alpha 66 among her supporters, now hopes to press her advantage in Washington. If the government review of Morgan's case stalls, she plans a protest learned in Castro's notorious prisons: a hunger strike, this one in front of the White House.

''I'm ready. I can go a long time without eating,'' said Goodwin, 69. ``This time, it's for William.''

The crusade to restore Morgan's citizenship promises to resurrect long-forgotten memories of one of the most intriguing characters of the Cuban Revolution.

An American who spoke little Spanish, Morgan stood out as a swashbuckling figure even in those extraordinary times, carrying a gold-plated .38-caliber automatic and boasting of a price on his head.

Newsweek and Time wrote about his exploits in 1959, the year the U.S. government stripped him of citizenship for his role in the Cuban rebel forces. Yet the Ohio-born man remains a hero to many Miami exiles for his unwavering anti-communist stance and the ultimate price he paid.

To his widow, remarried now and living in this industrial city where her late husband was raised, Morgan is a ghost at her shoulder, a spirit with no place to call home. Restoring his citizenship would finally let him rest, she believes.

Her struggle goes beyond the question of one man's legacy. For displaced Cubans like Goodwin, fighting a war that never ends, citizenship -- where you belong -- is central. If exile means no country of your own, then resolution for Morgan might be, in some small measure, resolution for many.

''He gave his life for democracy,'' Goodwin said. ``And then he died without a country, neither Cuban nor American.''

Cuban historians have called Morgan a ''rock star'' revolutionary, with classically American looks -- tall, blond, blue-eyed -- and a wisecracking personality. A troublemaker as a teenager, he stunned his family when he left Ohio and adopted Cuba's fight as his own in late 1957.

`LIBERTY AND JUSTICE'

He seemed made for revolutionary times. A natural leader, he reached the rank of comandante, or major, after leading guerrillas in mountain battles against Cuban President Fulgencio Batista's soldiers. But he never hid his anti-communist feelings, telling The New York Times that he was fighting for ''liberty and justice'' in Cuba. As the new government veered left, Morgan became increasingly disenchanted.

''He was a classic 1950s rebel without a cause -- until he landed in Cuba,'' said Antonio de la Cova, a Latino Studies professor at Indiana University. ``In Cuba, he was able to find the purpose he had been looking for. But he was a product of the Cold War, and as such, he was red, white and blue to his core. He would never have accepted communist rule.''

Morgan's open disdain for communism probably doomed him. Even after Castro took power, Morgan handed out anti-communist leaflets to peasants, fueling rumors that he was a CIA operative. He once ordered all communists off the farm he helped run after the revolution.

The story of his execution on March 11, 1961, recounted in books and a letter from a priest who witnessed it, is as dramatic as anything Hollywood could dream up. Imprisoned for six months before his one-day trial, he went to his death embracing one of his executioners and saying in stilted Spanish, ``Tell the boys I forgive them.''

When he was ordered onto his knees at el paredon, the execution wall, he famously refused: ``I kneel for no man.''

And when the firing squad shot him in the knees, and his legs buckled, a voice rang out: ''See? We made you kneel.'' A round of bullets finished him off.

''Some say he was a mercenary and a traitor, but he gave his life for a country that wasn't even his,'' said Lourdes Del Pino. Her father, Jesus Carrera, Morgan's good friend, was killed by the firing squad the same day as Morgan.

''To put your life on the line for any country -- that's admirable,'' she said. ``But to do it for someone else's country, that's hard to argue with.''

Her mother, Teresa Del Pino, visited Carrera and Morgan before their execution. Morgan was worried that he had no burial plot. Del Pino, 20 at the time, promised to have his body placed in her family's crypt along with her husband's, which she later did.

After Del Pino left, she heard gunfire. ''I could hear the shots perfectly,'' she said during an interview in her South Miami-Dade County home. ``I knew exactly what it was.''

Morgan and her husband died as bravely as they lived, she said, tears in her eyes. ``They were fighting for freedom of a country, democracy, free speech. Not for one man to get all the power.''

PHOTOS FROM THE PAST

In her Toledo town home, a modest two-story residence where Jesus and George W. Bush share wall space, Goodwin sorts through binders of yellowed articles and old photos. Among the most famous shots: Morgan with Castro and rebel commanders Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo and Ché Guevara.

''They were never our friends,'' Goodwin says with a firm shake of her head. ``We were working for the freedom of our country, not for communism, not for what happened.''

During her 12 years in prison, Goodwin was one of the plantados, or planted ones, who refused to bend to the will of their captors. In the revolution, she joined the nearly all-male guerrillas in the Escambray mountains. As a Mariel refugee in 1980, she settled in Toledo to be near her husband's family.

She has hoped for years that the United States would reclaim Morgan. In 1981, she told The Miami News that her husband's dream of a free world for her and their daughters had come true: ``I now appeal to Congress and the American people to make it a just world for us by posthumously restoring William's citizenship.''

This spring, more than 20 years later, she took her plea directly to the president.

''Dear President Bush of the United States of America,'' her letter begins. ``I am writing this letter to you because I am from Cuba. I was there in the revolution. I met in my country a wonderful man from the United States. His name was William Alexander Morgan. We became husband and wife.''

Newspapers at the time said Morgan at first fought to retain his citizenship but then renounced it; skeptics say his ''decision'' was announced by Castro's government. Goodwin insists he was deeply hurt by the U.S. action and always wanted to remain an American.

The president, she wrote, should honor her husband as a man who fought for democracy. ``Please Mr. President, may God have you make the right decision. I beg of you.''

LOVE IN THE MOUNTAINS

In a photo snapped a few days after their 1958 wedding, William and Olga stand in matching khakis, gazing at each other, the mountains of Central Cuba behind them, each grasping a gun.

A young activist in Santa Clara, where her family lived, Goodwin met Morgan at a clandestine gathering of revolutionaries in the mountains.

'I look at him and I think, `Oh, my God,' '' she recounted. ``I knew he was fighting for my country, and that touched my heart. And then I saw him. My heart was going boom boom boom boom.''

He was 30 and divorced, with two children in Toledo, and had joined the rebels after a friend reportedly died at the hands of Batista's police. Olga was 22 and a teacher, the second oldest of six children from a family poor enough to go hungry sometimes.

Their courtship, conducted amid the revolution, led quickly to marriage in a ''rebel mountain hideout,'' a newspaper story said.

The newlyweds moved among top revolutionaries, putting aside the distrust Goodwin now says they felt for Castro in order to serve the cause: freedom of the people. But tensions were evident. In one confrontation, Goodwin recalled, Morgan threatened Guevara with physical harm if he tried to take command of Morgan's troops, part of the Second Front, or Segundo Frente.

''There was a rivalry there,'' Cuban historian de la Cova said, describing the relationship between the Second Front and Castro's 26th of July Movement. ``Castro always distrusted them.''

By the time Batista fled on Jan. 1, 1959, Morgan was well known, with his biggest splash yet to come. When the new regime was seven months old, Morgan reportedly played a key role in foiling the first big anti-Castro plot, acting as a double agent to prevent an invasion by forces of Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, Castro's enemy.

Did Morgan tell Castro because he knew the plot had already been discovered? Or was he truly working for Castro? In either case, Morgan became a national hero on Cuban television, sharing the stage with Castro himself.

And yet, times were increasingly tough for members of the anti-communist Second Front of the Escambray. Morgan, excluded from the new government, worked on a frog farm, raising frogs for restaurant use. He and Olga had two daughters by then.

The United States had announced it would revoke his citizenship weeks after the smashed anti-Castro plot. And the FBI was watching him, noting his friends' names and his trips to the United States, according to National Archives records.

In a Look magazine interview published after his death, Morgan joked about his future: ``If anything happens to me, you'll know the commies have really taken over.''

Goodwin said they lived with constant worry. ``William said he didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay. He wasn't afraid, but we knew that they might arrest us.''

He and Goodwin, though, were trying to prepare. They had hidden weapons in the hills after the revolution -- to protect themselves, Goodwin now says, although other accounts said they were part of counterrevolutionary forces.

On Oct. 17, 1960, Morgan and his wife were arrested. The charge: delivering arms to the guerrillas ``at the direction of foreign interests.''

Hiram González, imprisoned with Morgan, said that he didn't know whether Morgan worked for the United States, but that everyone had heard whispers of a planned attack.

''We knew something was going on. We knew people were training,'' he said from his home in Miami. ``But we didn't know what exactly it was going to be. William never believed he would be killed. He thought the government wanted to scare him, not to kill him.''

OBSTACLES AHEAD

To restore Morgan's citizenship would take an act of Congress or a special -- and unlikely -- action by the State Department.

In the 44 years since the Ohio man's death, U.S. courts have interpreted citizenship laws in a new light. Intent is now key. In most cases, a person must intend to give up citizenship in order for the government to act, immigration experts said.

State Department officials say they rarely reopen such cases posthumously because of the difficulty of determining intent. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

But Goodwin insists that Morgan never intended to renounce his country. His case, she says, should be an exception.

Alpha 66 is ready to back her efforts. ''We are 100 percent for Olga,'' said Vice Secretary Osiel González, who fought with Morgan. ``She is one of us.''

The letter from Homeland Security's Office of the Executive Secretariat is neutral: ``The issues you raise are very important to us, and we are working to provide a written response.''

For Goodwin, though, there is no doubt. She recites part of Morgan's final, smuggled letter to her:

``Since the first time I saw you in the mountains until the last time I saw you in prison, you have been my love, my happiness, my companion in life and in my thoughts during my moment of death. . . . Olga, I have never been a traitor or done any damage to Cuba. . . . Those who are putting us on trial and condemning us have their job to do and are acting according to the conditions set out by today's politics. So if they are guilty of so many injustices, leave it to history to straighten out such faults. Revenge is not the answer.''

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The article also has some interesting photos.

Major William 'Bill Morgan, of Toledo, Ohio, held equal military

rank with Castro in the revolutionary army.

WILLIAM MORGAN

I was under the Castro spell

Untill the day Bill Morgan fell

Our friend Fidel had him shot down

And burried under red Cuban ground.

It was at La Cabana where he died

The victim of true patriot pride,

Trijillo the murderer tried to deal

With Morgan, Castro's power to steal.

Dominicans landed and died in Cuba's snare

Not one Trijillo soldier did Castro spare

Major Morgan, soldier and hero true

Saved the Revolution, not else he would do.

On Bill Morgan history did hinge

Then an angry U.S. State Dept. went on a binge

Morgan's citizenship they did revoke

Knowing he'd soon die by this infamous hoax.

Globalists, will never show mercy

To any who injure their conspiracies

Many like Morgan will pay this price

But will live on immortal, the greater life!

{c} by Harry J. Dean

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  • 7 years later...

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