We will miss you, dear, dear friend...
On February 24, 1996 a great guy, a "mensch," as author Humberto Fontova referred to him in an e-mail exchange with this writer a couple of years ago, was lost over the Straits of Florida, above international waters, at the 24th parallel. Armando Alejandre Jr. was his name; like the writer, another Habanero and a contemporary. We were school mates at Immaculata-LaSalle High School, Miami, from 1964 to 1968. He had many, many friends there and all of us who are still around will miss him greatly at our planned 40th graduation anniversary reunion later this year.
This is how we remember Armando during those - to us - nostalgic, sweet, and golden years.
The image comes from the Immaculata-LaSalle Signum yearbook published in 1968 - at the time of publication, our graduation loomed closer, and from there many of us would walk divergent paths through life. We had hopes, ideas, and dreams for creating a fulfilling and happy life, to the betterment of our future families, communities, and ourselves. For Armando, no doubt many of these dreams and hopes were realized, but other unfulfilled dreams and hopes were cut short that February day.
It is not the intent to retell and rehash the tragic story of that day here. That has already been done and better than this writer is able to do it. Other young men who had dreams and hopes - as did Armando - for a free Cuba perished that afternoon with him. They must not be forgotten either; as is true for Armando, they and their families wait for the full measure of justice which must be meted out to the perpetrators of this criminal act. They were Carlos Costa, Mario De La Peña, and Pablo Morales.
The last time the writer had seen him was at our graduating class' 20th reunion in 1988; we had a wonderful night, all of us, reminiscing, dancing, reconnecting at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Armando stands in the next-to-last row, fifth from the right, in front of the gentleman wearing a red tie - you cannot miss him; he was tall and stood out in many ways.
Of course, he will not be present at our reunion this year - the 40th, for the Class of '68. Well, let me qualify that. He may not be physically present, but he will be there. It is just a feeling...
The blogger has been drafted to play a part in making the 40th reunion reality. In connection with that, a blog for the Class of '68 was created. One of the first posts was dedicated to Armando, not just to remember and honor him, but also to help promote the movie/documentary his daughter, Marlene Alejandre-Triana produced. In the interests of completing this post in time for publication on the anniversary of his death, and because of constraints both of time and obligations, decided to feature the article from the Immaculata-LaSalle blog here. The original publication date was January 29, 2008.
"We do not want to have too many "tearjerker" moments during our reunion, or as we prepare for it. Inevitably, these moments will come. At some point, an "In Memoriam" post will be necessary to remember and honor those who sadly, are no longer with us.
One of our classmates, Armando Alejandre Jr., unfortunately became well known, in an entirely unintended way, when he and three other men were murdered by kaSStro's cowardly "puffwaffe" pilots on the twenty-fourth of February, 1996.
You could not help but notice Armando's lanky, 6-foot plus frame around campus during our sojourn at Immaculata-LaSalle. He and "shorty" bantered and kidded a lot about our respective heights, lack thereof in the case of the writer, exchanging witticisms, such as - "Hey, Seven Floors - how's the weather up there?" "Guys be careful - don't step accidentally on Quiroga!"
[Armando put his tall talents to good use playing basketball for LaSalle in '64-'65 - the image is from Signum, the school yearbook, 1965]
I miss the guy, and remember all too well when classmate Nelson Orta called, sounding very upset, to relay the news about the shootdown. The wave of shock which went through yours truly's short frame will never be forgotten.
The reason this is being written is because a documentary about this tragic incident has just been released. Here is the email received via a childhood friend - no, not an ILS classmate - which provides the details you need to know about it.
'Dear Friends & Family:
I'm writing to let you all know that SHOOTDOWN, a documentary film about the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in February of 1996, one of which was carrying my father Armando Alejandre Jr., will be opening in theaters this Friday, January 25th. It was written and directed by my cousin Cristina Khuly. It will be the second largest documentary opening in the last 12 months, only after Sicko, Michael Moore's last film. It has been shown in numerous film festivals around the country and won Best Documentary at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival this year.
It is extremely important that if we all want the truth about what happened that day, and the simple truth about the Castro regime to be heard all over this country and hopefully one day the world, that we do our best to support this film on its opening weekend. Ticket sales have to be high on the first three days of showing (simply put, the only thing the film industry looks at) and will determine the future of this film into which my cousin has poured three years of her life. In case some of you saw a version of the film on the 10th anniversary, please note, that it is a completely different film from the one you screened. It has been worked and reworked until they produced the simplest, most concise grouping of facts which tell the story of February 24, 1996.
Even if you are not interested, please forward this e-mail to anyone you know who may have the desire to see this movie. Below is a list of theaters around the country where it will be playing. Three years ago people in the industry told my cousin this movie would never make it into even festivals because of its subject matter, Friday, January 25, it will be seen around the country.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this message and hopefully support Shootdown.
The January 29th post in the Immaculata-LaSalle blog ends thus:
"Armando was part of our lives, our history during those four wonderful years at Immaculata-LaSalle, he being one who helped make those years memorable. See the movie if you can possibly do so, and spread the word everywhere. We do not forget our friend and neither should anyone else. The world must know and be reminded about this heinous murder, so that someday for Armando's sake, the perpetrators will be brought to justice."
There is nothing more than can be said about Armando Alejandre Jr. - at least not from this side;
much has been written about him...all one needs to do is enter his name for any half-capable search engine to find hundreds of references about him. There is one more subject the writer is compelled to touch upon. It is relevant, although some may think not - but as for the ones who think not, their opinion is totally irrelevant.
One of the unfortunate strengths possessed by Cuba's maximum criminal, fortunately not including the power to stave off the pathetic death which will soon come for him, has been the ability to size up and accurately judge the character of his adversaries, including their strengths and weaknesses. On the day of the shootdown, a certain sneering, leering, master of solipsism and narcissism occupied the White House, filling it with his self-appointed, self-important legend-in-his-own-mind presence. His name was then, still is, William Jefferson Clinton.
No one will ever convince the writer that Mr. Clinton, whose often-sneering visage will not dis-grace this post, could have been oblivious to the unfolding events on the 24th of February, 1996 and done something to either warn the criminal of Havana to make sure "it" did not try perpetrating any of "its" dastardly tricks, or better yet, ordering the professional and extremely capable pilots of the United States Air Force to blow down kaSStro's "puff-waffe" out of the skies over the 24th parallel. On that day, the only casualties should have been the rude, crude pilots of the "kubanski puff-waffe;" what heroes, they were...shooting down unarmed civilian aircraft.
Bet these "glorious revolutionary air heroes" would have crapped their flight suits and howled in terror had they been "locked onto" by F-16s from Homestead air base...no doubt their last thoughts would have been of their "glorious kommandant." What kind of thoughts is another matter. Unfortunately, that is not the way it turned out, being you had a vacillating, ne'er do well "commander in chief" sittin' pretty near the Potomac.
And today, Mrs. Clinton has pretensions to be the next Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, hubby taking on the role of the eminence grise in that new administration, should such a thing regretfully come to pass. Well, mi querido amigo Alejandre, and am not speaking for your short blogging friend only, we're gonna do the best we can to make sure such a thing does not take place, rest assured. You do not want to contemplate, even remotely, the possibility of the tragic events of February 24, 1996 being repeated. Neither do we, your friends, your family, all who cared about you and do not forget you. Rest assured we will work hard to shoot down the electoral prospects of the pompous and pretentious, of those who do not even deserve to look at the White House, never mind occupy it for four years. Some day they will be forgotten, and rightfully so; let us pray instead, you will always be remembered and that your sacrifice will not be in vain. You will be honored and remembered in a free Havana, your birthplace.