Decorated Vet Remembered As 'Honest To God Hero'
(October 4, 2008)
Grayston L. Lynch
| ||August 13, 2008, TAMPA - Grayston L. Lynch fired the first shot during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.|
He fought his way through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Korea and Laos, was wounded three times and decorated six times for valor.
Known as "Gray" to friends and family, he spent more than 30 years in Tampa before dying Saturday of heart failure at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. He was 85.
"He was a real honest to God hero," his wife, Karen, said Tuesday.
Just before midnight on April 16, 1961, Lynch landed in a 12-foot rubber raft to mark the beach for the invasion when he and his men were spotted by a two-man patrol from the
|Lynch fired, taking both of the men out.|
"I had never been in combat before," remembers Amado Cantillo, one of the Navy frogmen with him that night. "It was very scary, but exciting at the same time because we were going to liberate Cuba. The only thing that failed was we didn't get the air support we were supposed to get."
The quick failure of that invasion is well documented in history, including the first person account by Lynch in his 1998 book, "Decision for Disaster; Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs."
Lynch, then the Central Intelligence Agency case officer for the invasion, earned the Intelligence Star for volunteering to return to help rescue 41 men from his assault brigade that had landed.
"It was really bad - one of our men drowned in a foot of water," Cantillo said. "Some fled, thinking we were Castro's militia. We buried five of our men. We even buried one of their pilots."
By that time, Lynch had already served 21 years in the U.S. Army. He started in 1938 in the Horse Cavalry. He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was wounded shortly after. He was seriously wounded in his leg at the Battle of the Bulge; was shot off a ridge by a sniper at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in the Korean War; and was a captain in the 77th Special Forces Group in Laos.
Lynch was awarded three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star with V for valor. He retired from the U.S. Army 77th Special Forces in 1960 and joined the CIA.
"He's a born, caring leader - he cared about his men. He lead by doing," said Cantillo, who lives in Miami. He said Lynch is revered by the Cuban people: "He believed in our cause. He was there, up front all the time. To me, he's a hero. I just want people to know how great he was."
It was Lynch's wife, Karen, who helped Lynch live with a body weakened by his wounds and a failing heart, Cantillo said.
The couple met in 1987. Karen had traveled the world, was breeding horses and had just written a spy novel. Lynch was very ill and needed help to translate yellow pads filled with notes into a book on the invasion.
It was an unlikely pairing: "When they invaded the Bay of Pigs, I was dancing at my prom," Karen Lynch says.
But the two fell in love. He was tall - 6-foot-2 - and had a presence. "When he walked in a room, you knew he was the man in charge."
The couple married in 1990 at the chapel at MacDill Air force Base, and lived in Carrollwood.
"He was a wonderful person to talk to - he was brilliant," his wife of 18 years says. Some of his stories are told in his book, the rights to which were purchased by Hollywood producer Ron Howard and Universal Studios.
The couple started a Web site to continue telling their story of the work of the intelligence community. "We blew all the myths and misconceptions and lies at the Bay of Pigs to heck," she says, vowing to keep up her husbands' work.
A full military memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the MacDill Air Force Base chapel where the Lynches were married. He will be cremated.
After that, Karen Lynch said, "I'm taking him home" to their house in Carrollwood, filled with plaques and awards too numerous to count.
The Lynches' Web site is http://www.warofwits.net.
By Marilyn Brown
The Tampa Tribune
Reprinted with permission from The Tampa Tribune
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