By Michael E. Miller
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On weekends, Gustavo traveled three hours to the family's sprawling farm. He 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 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 diminutive five-foot-four-inch vet remembers.
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. He was stopped eight times at guerrilla checkpoints and returned home shaken.
A few days later, Gustavo joined his father at the wedding of a top government minister. There he met President Fulgencio Batista and began describing the harrowing journey home. Before he could finish, though, Batista's defense chief, Gen. Francisco Tabernilla Dolz, burst out, "Don't believe this kid! It's not true."
Batista, perhaps, 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, 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 young man 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 were turning 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.
Che 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 entered with his bearded guards and closed the door of his father's office. "I knew he was a murderer and a thug," Gustavo recalls today in a gravelly Spanish drawl. "You can tell that just by how someone acts."
Gustavo Sr. was deeply disturbed by the visit. 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 realize it at the time, but his father was saying goodbye.
The next morning, the younger Gustavo 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 into the copilot's seat in 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 aquamarine waters in the Bay of Pigs 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 Gustavo 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.
Villoldo and Seigrist decided parachuting out would be more dangerous than trying to land with the napalm. Almost everyone who jumped from a B-26 cockpit midflight got sucked into the tail and crushed.
"Let's land it," Gustavo finally said.
As the B-26 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, bribing his way into traveling papers and a flight to Miami. Within weeks of landing, he met other anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
The small group talked a Cuban banker into lending them a Piper Apache for bombing runs over the island. Then they built homemade explosives.
Police arrested them before they could make a single run. As they awaited trial, CIA operatives asked if they wanted to train for a covert invasion of their homeland.
Charges were dropped, and they all signed up.
"I hated the men who had killed my father," Gustavo says today. "I didn't care about democracy because it didn't really mean anything to me at that point. It wasn't about politics. It was personal."