How An American Fought for the Cuban Revolution and Rose to the Rank of Comandante

Jax Hudur

The man who fought for the revolution, only to die for opposing the ideology

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From left to right: Fidel Castro, Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, Che Guevara, Augusto Martínez Sánchez, Antonio Núñez Jiménez, William Alexander Morgan and Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo walk through Havana on March 5, 1960

William Alexander Morgan was born in Toledo, Ohio on the 19th of April 1928. He had a troubled life, dropping out of high school, getting married, and joined the United States (US) army. Unfortunately, Morgan failed to commit to his obligations and the marriage was short-lived.

A second marriage while stationed in Japan was similarly brief. His career with the US army, like his failed marriages, also took a turn for the worse: he went AWOL (absent without official leave) from the military. His subsequent arrest by the military did not last long as he overpowered a guard and escaped. Recaptured, he was court-martialled and sentenced to two years in federal prison. After that, he was dishonorably discharged. He got married for the third time in Miami and had two children from this marriage.

Ninety miles away, another battle was taking place, but unlike Morgan’s demons, Cubans were at war with the Batista Military dictatorship. In the fifties, Cuba was like an American colony and Las Vegas before Vegas. People went to Cuba for clubbing and gambling, the ideal getaway destination for mobsters and fun-loving rich folks. Corruption was also rampant, and social justice was non-existent. The American companies managed the country’s economy; Cuba was, after all, America’s backyard.

Morgan once again left his wife and children and headed for Cuba to fight for the revolution. As he would have preferred, he did not join the revolution’s leadership in the Sierra Maestra mountains where they were based and directed their military operations against the dictatorship. He enlisted with the revolution’s Second Front (Segundo Frente Nacional de Escambray, SFNE), an independent rebel group that operated in central Cuba’s Escambray mountains.

The rebels were wary of saboteurs in their ranks, and newcomers like Morgan were suspected moles. He had to go through rigorous vetting, being subjected to back-breaking duties and relentless scrutiny. Morgan excelled at whichever task was thrown at him and the rebels soon found out it was a futile endeavor to chase him away. He was a man who would not give up on his quest. Morgan proved himself through selfless courage and perseverance without complaint, earning the respect of the men. He was finally accepted, and he, in turn, embraced the fight wholeheartedly.

Morgan’s previous military experience did not go to waste. His fellow fighters were in awe of his conduct in the field as he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the second in command of the Second Front, being the only Non-Cuban besides the Argentine Che Guevara to achieve the status of Comandante, the highest level of the revolutionary forces. He also met the love of his life, Olga Maria Rodriguez Farinas, a fellow revolutionary fighter. In an interview with the New York times, she said,

"I am a great romantic, and I was so moved that someone from another country would care enough about my countrymen to fight for them."

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William Morgan and his wife Olga Maria

Soon, the great American rebel commander’s popularity reached Batista and his henchmen. A twenty thousand dollars bounty was put on Morgan’s head. Batista was not the only interested party in Morgan, J Edgar Hoover too was interested in the American fighting for the rebels.

The US media was very kind to Morgan, often exaggerating his feats. At one point, they alluded that Morgan was among the Allied Forces that stormed the Normandy beaches on Word War II’s D-day. Headlines like “daring fellow” became common in major newspapers like the Washington Post when describing him, and if this did not arouse Hoover’s curiosity, it did capture Fidel Castro’s. Soon afterward, Fidel, in a move to consolidate power and control within the fighting groups, despatched Che Guevara to command the Second Front.

Friction among the foreign Comandantes

Che and Morgan were worlds apart in their motivation and outlook, as they came from different worlds. For Che, it was about liberating the Americas from Yankee colonialism starting with Cuba; however, for Morgan, it was about the liberation of Cuba from the clutches of a dictator. Their differences led to mistrust on both sides; the only two foreign Commandants in Cuba’s revolutionary forces could not get along. Che’s contempt for the Second Front didn’t help either, he described them as mere “come vacas” (cow eaters), suggesting they were freeloaders. With Che in command, the rebels’ pushed to take Santa Clara, the capital of the Villa Clara province. The city fell to the insurgents in the now-famous decisive battle of Santa Clara, forcing Batista to flee the country and sealing the revolution’s victory.

The exposed conspiracy

Fidel Castro had previously stated that he was not a communist and even promised to hold elections. Still, the leadership of the revolution was divided into two camps, communists and non-communists. The brother of Fidel, Raúl Castro and Che Guevara were staunch communists, and on the other hand, leading figures like Huber Matos, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Morgan opposed the communist ideology. Cracks were forming in the new revolutionary government, and old enemies were watching. Batista, who was now living in the Dominican Republic, did not give up. American mobsters were involved as they had a stake in Cuba’s economy in the old Batista regime.

On the other hand, Uncle Sam worried that the ‘commies’ were coming to his backyard. A plot was hatched to get rid of Fidel Castro. Morgan was offered bribes on the condition that he would hatch a plan that would topple Fidel Castro. It did not take long for Morgan to accept their offer, promising them his and the mistreated Second Front’s support. Unbeknown to them, however, Morgan was plotting with Fidel Castro in exposing the anti-revolutionaries. It worked, the first conspiracy was foiled, and Morgan again saved the revolution.

“If anything happens to me, you will know the commies have really taken over.”

— William Alexander Morgan

Frog farming

After the revolution was won, Morgan did not take a position within the government but started frog farming. His novel business idea was again in the press, being hailed as a “miracle.” The real miracle was that Morgan was committed to his new company, spending most of his time improving it. It grew and provided employment opportunities and even went on to export to the US. The business was not all that he did, he became vocal against Castro, especially now that his old friends and other dissidents were being arrested or executed. The US regime change campaign exacerbated these arrests as Castro grew weary of a countercoup. Old friends like Morgan were put under surveillance by the Cuban military. Disgruntled and disillusioned with the course of events, former members of the Second Front went back to the Escambray mountains to wage war against Castro’s regime, and so did Morgan. He became their arms smuggler.

Death by execution

“If you ever get out of here alive, which I doubt you will, try to tell people my story.”

— William Alexander Morgan

It did not take long for the regime to get hold of Morgan’s counter-revolution activities. He was arrested and, in a kangaroo court, sentenced to death. Morgan, the hero of the revolution, the man who single handily saved the Revolution from Batista’s conspiracy, was now facing a firing squad, his execution watched by non-other than Fidel and his brother, Raul Castro.

His wife fled with the children to the US and has been requesting Morgan’s remains to be brought back home to his birth country for decades now. She has already won a significant victory. She reinstated Morgan’s American citizenship.

Little is known or written about Morgan considering his vast influence on the Cuban Revolution and his subsequent demise. I had difficulties in finding good sources for my research of this exciting revolutionary. Nevertheless, I am not alone in my curiosity about this man. There is a biopic in the works on Morgan’s life starring Hollywood actor Adam Driver.

Sources;

  1. The Yankee Comandante | The New Yorker
  2. The Yankee Comandante: The Untold Story of Courage, Passion, and One American’s Fight to Liberate Cuba.
  3. William Alexander Morgan — Wikipedia
  4. ‘Yankee Comandante’: Adam Driver Reunites With ‘Loving’ Driector Jeff Nichols — Deadline
  5. Michael Sallah & Mitch Weiss The Yankee Comandante, The Untold Story of Courage, Passion, and One — YouTube

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I write about history, politics, and true crime. Not to mention anything else that takes my fancy or is newsworthy.

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