Memorial Day is just around the corner, yet the eternal flame at the Bay of Pigs monument is not burning.
Bay of Pigs veteran Jorge Imfiesta Casals, 82, was shocked to learn the sculptures flame was out. His mouth dropped open. He could not recall another time when the flame had been extinguished.
Guillermina Hernandez said it has been out for three weeks, put out by recent heavy rains. The 72-year old clerk at Los Piñarenos Kitchen works around the corner from the Bay of Pigs monument in Little Havana. Her husband fought in the battle before they knew each other.
I really like the monument, Im protecting it, said Hernandez, who hails from Pinar del Rio. Its a beautiful way to honor the fallen. She noted that neighbors usually call the fire department to relight the flame.
Born in Havana, Imfiesta Casals works at the Bay of Pigs museum a few blocks from the monument. He wears a small pin on his shirt with the shield of Brigade 2506, which embarked on a U.S.-trained mission to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro.
About 1,300 Cuban exiles partook in the invasion April 17, 1961 104 of them died in the operation. Today their pictures adorn the walls of the museum, alongside those of their fellow soldiers who passed away later.
I had two motives for participating, Imfiesta Casals said. My love for Cuba and my family.
Housed in a one-story house, the Bay of Pigs Museum has the original flag used in the operation, as well as two weapons employed in the struggle. On a given day, between 10 and 15 visitors tour the museum. A neighbor who had lived across the street for two years toured it for the first time.
I wish I was young again to be able to fight again, said 71-year old Oscar Rodriguez, a Bay of Pigs veteran originally from a town called Marti in the Matanzas province. Like Imfiesta Casals, Rodriguez was also unaware of the flames current state. He said he was going to call the fire department that very day so they could fix it.
Cuba no longer exists except in name, Imfiesta Casals said. For him, Fidel Castro whom Imfiesta Casals called a savage changed the island completely. The Bay of Pigs was his way of taking back his homeland.
Hernandez praised the bravery of the movements participants, some of whom were as young as 16. She called the soldiers the best group of Cubans that gave their lives for Cuba.
On a bench at Maximo Gomez Park, Felipe Cabrera said he points out what the flame means to him every time he drives tourists past Calle Ocho and Southwest 13th Avenue. The monument, explained the chauffeur from Havana, commemorates the martyrs who died for a free Cuba.
Jesus Mezquisa, 37 from Hallandale Beach, also relaxing at the park, said the monument pays tribute to his Cuban forefathers. Its something else that represents us sons of Cubans.