|Birth: ||Mar. 14, 1931|
|Death: ||Apr. 19, 1961, Cuba|
Participant in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Pilot. Alabama Air National Guardsmen. Recipient of Distinguished Intelligence Cross (The Central Intelligence Agency's highest award for Heroism.)
On April 19, 1961, Pilot, Capt "Pete" Ray and Flight Engineer, Leo Baker were shot down in their B-26 Bomber near Playa Giron, Cuba. The two men survived the crash but were killed in a shootout with Cuban Soldiers.
Fidel Castro ordered Ray's body preserved as evidence in Cuba for more than 17 years. Finally in December 1979, after the Cubans learned of a personal mission by Ray's daughter, Tanet Ray Weininger, to find his body, the Cuban government returned the pilot's body to Alabama.
US judge orders Cuba pay 87 million in 1961 death of CIA pilot
MIAMI, Nov 18 (AFP) - A US judge Thursday awarded more than 80 million
dollars to a woman who sued Cuban President Fidel Castro for the execution
of her father after a CIA plane he flew was downed during the 1961 Bay of
"I honored my father, I stood up for him," Janet Ray told journalists after
the ruling was announced.
Judge Ronald Dresnick awarded 83 million dollars to Pete Ray's daughter and
a further four million dollars to his estate.
Janet Ray told the Miami court earlier that her father survived the downing
of the CIA plane during the botched invasion, but was later shot
point-blank, and that his body was kept for 18 years in a Havana morgue
where it was repeatedly desecrated.
"Pete Ray was not provided any of the international protections or rights
awarded to prisoners of war prior to his execution," Dresnick said in his
"Pete Ray was the victim of an extrajudicial killing," he said.
He also said the evidence showed that the defendants' actions "deprived Ms.
Ray of a normal adulthood."
For years, she wrote letters to Castro and sought help from her
representative in Congress to recover her father's body, which Cuba returned
only in 1979.
Despite being vindicated by the judge's ruling, the pilot's daughter said
she felt "like an elephant is still sitting on my chest."
The lawsuit was filed under legislation that allows victims of US-designated
terrorist states to sue for damages, and named as defendants the Cuban
president and his brother Raul Castro, neither of whom showed up for the
Castro has been found guilty in other trials filed under the same
legislation, and in some cases the plaintiffs were paid out of frozen Cuban
assets in the United States.
The 1961 Bay of Pigs fighting lasted 68 hours and killed 176 Cuban forces
and 120 US-based exiles.
From the National Alliance BITS 'N' PIECES newsletter 03/27/98
"CIA Acknowledges U.S. Pilots downed in Bay of Pigs Mission"
How many American Servicemen, Active Duty, Reserves or National Guard
were lost during the ill fated CIA operation to invade Cuba on April 19,
1961? According to an L.A. Times article by Mark Fineman and Dolly
Mascarenas at least two Americans recruited from the Alabama National
Guard, were shot down over Cuba. Both crewmen, Capt. Pete Ray and
flight Engineer Leo Baker survived the crash. Both men were shot and
killed by Cuban soldiers. "Baker whose features appeared Latin was
buried along with other unclaimed Cuban invaders..."
What happened to Pete Ray? According to the article "Castro was so
determined to prove the Americans were there he froze Ray's remains for
more than 18 years."
Finally, in 1979, due to efforts of Ray's daughter, Janet Ray Weininger
"and after 19 months of painstaking diplomacy with a U.S. government
that still did not want to claim him as one of its own, Cuba returned
the pilot's body to Alabama."
In 1978, agents met with Weininger "...the agents told the truth about
Ray and handed over two medals and a citation posthumously awarding Ray
the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the agency's highest award for
"Last month, the CIA released a document confirming that U.S. pilots had
in fact been shot down over Cuba in 1961. And last week, agency
officials acknowledged publicly for the first time that the Alabama
pilot was one of theirs."
"These were vortex people, the most important people in the world for a
few moments, and then the government just cuts the strings and cuts them
loose to drift," said Ray's cousin, Thomas Bailey an Alabama journalist"
"...Weininger said she harbors no animosity toward the Cubans for
keeping her father's body all those years. "I blame my government...
They led these men into harm's way and then turned [their] back on
Los Angeles Times
Bay of Pigs: the Secret Death of Pete Ray
* The Alabama Air Guard pilot died during ill-fated Cuban invasion
attempt. For years, the CIA hid his fate from his family. Havana,
meanwhile, kept his body frozen.
By MARK FINEMAN and DOLLY MASCARENAS, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 15, 1998
Home Edition Part A Page I Foreign Desk
HAVANA--When Thomas "Pete" Ray's B-26 bomber was shot down by Cuban
antiaircraft batteries near Playa Giron on April 19, 1961, he wasn't
So said the CIA.
And for decades, the U.S. government publicly denied that a top-secret
squadron of civilians recruited from the Alabama Air National Guard ever
existed, let alone was on a CIA mission to bomb Cuba in one of the
agency's best-kept and most humiliating secrets. It was the failed Bay
of Pigs invasion, in which, officially, no Americans were involved.
But Ray was there. The 30-year-old Center Point, Ala., pilot was shot
to death--pistol and knife in hand--by one of Fidel Castrols soldiers.
They also killed his flight engineer, Leo Baker, after the two had
bombed targets near Castrols field headquarters. Two other Alabamians
also died when their plane was shot down during the invasion, which
included napalm bombing by U.S. aircraft.
They were on a mission that Col. Joe Shannon, one of the few surviving
pilots from the group, recently recalled was "a last-ditch effort" that,
through its very secrecy, would change the course of many lives for
decades to come.
Castro was so determined to prove the Americans were there that he froze
Ray's remains--for more than 18 years.
For Ray's wife, mother and two children, those years were haunted by
silent confusion and fear, as the U.S. government knew, but refused to
tell, the whereabouts of a man who had simply vanished from the face of
For the CIA, Ray's secret involved national security and image. To
admit that the pilot was one of theirs was to concede the depth of the
agency's involvement in a disastrous invasion that it insisted, until
last year, was the work of dissidents within Cuba.
And for the Cuban government, which spent thousands of dollars
preserving Ray's remains, the case was both frustrating and mystifying:
How could any government lie for so long to the family of a soldier?
After all, it had announced to the world on the day Ray died that it had
the body of an American pilot.
In December 1979, after the Cubans learned of a personal mission by
Ray's daughter, Tanet Ray Weininger, to find his body--and after 19
months of painstaking diplomacy with a U.S. government that still did
not want to claim him as one of its own--the Cuban government returned
the pilot's body to Alabama.
The CIA still has not publicly admitted that it knew where his remains
were all along. Just last month, however, the agency released a
document confirming that U.S. pilots were, in fact, shot down over Cuba
And last week, in response to detailed inquiries about the Ray case from
The Times, agency officials acknowledged publicly for the first time
that the Alabama pilot was one of theirs.
"Thomas 'Pete' Ray made heroic contributions to the CIA and to this
country, serving with great distinction," CIA spokesman Bill Harlow
said. "Given the passage of time and recent declassification of historic
documents from this time period, his affiliation with the CIA can now be
Documents obtained by The Times from the Cuban government, combined with
the recently declassified CIA memos, cables and confidential reports on
the Bay of Pigs, solve much of this extraordinary Cold War mystery of
the lost Alabamians.
Official Deception and Mutual Mistrust
It is a story of official U.S. deception and of a mutual mistrust
between the United States and the Communist government 90 miles off its
shores--a regime the CIA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars
trying to overthrow since Castro came to power in 1959.
As for the men of the secret squadron, "these were -vortex people--the
most important people in the world for a few moments--and then the
government just cuts the strings and cuts them loose to drift," said
Thomas Bailey, Ray's cousin and an Alabama journalist. "You're the
front line between communism and the free world. . . . Then, at the end,
the government ignores you.
"If there's a message beyond that, it's about government, about human
lives, about how lives are changed by one event. In some ways, these
people were never the same again. Some better, some worse. But it
marked that moment when we all, who believed in the government, began to
lose faith in that government."
Added Weininger, whose mother died years ago and whose Miami home is
filled with boxes of documents and photographs of her father: "If we had
to go back and do it all over again, I just wish they would have told me
the truth when it no longer needed to be a secret."
In its formal statement to The Times last week, the CIA also confirmed
for the first time that Ray was posthumously awarded the CIA's highest
honor for bravery--the Distinguished Intelligence Cross.
"We plan to add his name to the book of honor which identifies
individuals for whom a star has been inscribed in the marble facade of
the tower of the CIA headquarters building," spokesman Harlow said.
Until now, Ray's star has been marked only by a number.
Cubans Call Costly mission Humanitarian
In opening Havana's archives on the Ray case to The Times last month,
Cuban officials asserted in interviews that their government originally
froze the pilot's body to prove U.S. involvement in the invasion but
that the costly maintenance quickly became a humanitarian mission.
"In our culture, we do not handle dead bodies insensitively, not even
our enemies, our worst enemies," Cmdr. Manuel Pineiro, a former
intelligence chief better known as "Red Beard," said in his last
interview before he died of a heart attack after a car crash in Cuba
"The only explanation that I have for keeping the body for so long was
to return him to whoever claimed him, to his family," said Pineiro, who
was venerated in the Cuban press after his death as "the CIA's nemesis"
Pineiro and other Cubans interviewed expressed shock that the U.S.
government could turn its back for so long on one of its own.
"How does a country allow its own citizens--I refer to the families of
these pilots--to live in doubt, not to know what happened to their loved
ones?" he asked. "We told the world, the United Nations; we sent the
list with the names we had. Why was it nobody answered?"
Another senior Cuban official used a recent interview to invite Ray's
daughter to Havana as a state guest for what he said would amount to
But Weininger, 43, who has devoted her life to researching the case and
who now participates in Cuban American exile events in Miami, politely
After decades of trying to find out the truth and finally retrieving her
father's body with the help of two members of the U.S. Congress who
pushed the case with the State Department, she said she has become
suspicious of nearly everyone.
"I don't want to go to Cuba and be involved in something bigger, to be
used as a pawn between different political groups--there or here," she
said. "I want to go to Cuba when it's a free country."
Yet Weininger added that she harbors no animosity toward the Cubans for
keeping her father all those years. Just the opposite: "I blame my
government. My government did wrong. They led these men into harm's
way and then turned [their] back on them."
It is only within the past year that the CIA has admitted even that in
more than 1,000 pages of recently declassified documents on file at the
National Security Archives in Washington, and in a State Department
volume published last fall, the spy agency has come clean about its role
and its failures in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The agency previously went to great lengths to keep the information
secret. A document released last month, for example, was the sole
surviving copy of CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick's highly
critical 150-page report, which had been kept in a CIA safe for 37
Those documents, combined with others provided by the Cuban government
and interviews with witnesses and with relatives of those who died in
the invasion, tell a story not only of CIA bungling but of bitter
Recruits, Secret Bases and an Ill-Fated Plan
The story begins about a year after Castro overthrew Cubals U.S.-backed
dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and marched into Havana in January 1959.
In a plan hatched under President Eisenhower and executed in the first
months of John F. Kennedy's presidency, the CIA plotted every ill-fated
step of an invasion that was meant to appear entirely the work of
dissidents within Cuba and of mutinous Cuban military forces.
The CIA recruited exile fighters from throughout the United States, set
up clandestine training bases in the U.S., Guatemala and Nicaragua, and
searched for planes that would match those in the Cuban air force--B-26
bombers that the agency could repaint and deploy to make it appear as if
Castrols military had turned on him.
The only B-26s the CIA could find in the United States were in the aging
fleet at the Alabama Air National Guard in Birmingham. And there, the
agency also found a more-than-willing co-conspirator in the local Air
Guard commander, Maj. Gen. G. Reid Doster Jr., who hated Communists
In January 1961, the CIA picked Doster to recruit local pilots to fly,
along with Cuban exiles, the disguised B-26s during the invasion. Ray,
an Alabania-born aircraft inspector at a Birmingham factory, was typical
of Doster's unlikely Cold Warriors--weekend fliers who included the
owner of a local pizza shop.
Weininger remembers the day her father left home for the last time: Feb.
5, 1961. She was 6. None of the families of the dozen or so local
pilots knew the men were heading to Nicaragua to prepare to bomb Cuba.
The men's "cover story," Col. Shannon says, was that they were going to
pilot training school.
"My dad was just an average guy who loved to fly," Weininger said. "But
he firmly believed in what he did. He had told his mother that if he
dies flying, he'll die happy. But he also said that if we don't stop
communism in Cuba, someday we might have to fight it in our own
Shannon concurred. The Birmingham resident flew another B-26 the
morning Ray was killed; Shannon escaped a Cuban fighter jet that shot
down his best friend, Riley Shamburger, that day.
"This was a last-ditch effort, a desperate mission to save the guys on
the ground," recalled Shannon, now 76. "We weren't supposed to fly at
all- We were told we wouldn't be able to fly even if we wanted to. But
we were so close to the Cuban (exiles], their cause sort of became our
cause. And in a last moment of desperation, they [the CIA] let us fly."
The declassified CIA documents show that the final invasion plan did bar
the U.S. pilots from joining in the bombing runs. But the exile pilots,
who had been attacking Cuban airports and other targets for three days
before the invasion collapsed on April 19, "were exhausted and
dispirited," according to the documents.
By the time Ray took off from the Nicaraguan base at 3:55 a.m. on April
19 for the 700-mile flight to Cuba, the invasion already had failed. At
the last minute, Kennedy canceled U.S. air cover in a further effort to
deny Washington's role, and the 1,500 Cubans the CIA had sent to invade
were being torn to pieces on the beachhead.
Initially, the CIA blamed the lack of air cover for the in-vasion's
failure, but the CIA inspector generals report blamed the CIA
itself--its arrogance, poor planning and "almost willful bungling."
A CIA telegram to its personnel in Nicaragua authorizing Ray and his
colleagues to attack Castrole forces that day foreshadowed the decades
of mystery that would follow:
"Cannot attach sufficient importance to fact that American crews must
not fall into enemy hands. in event this happens, despite all
precautions, crews must state [they are] hired mercenaries, fighting
communism, etc.; U.S. will deny any knowledge."
And that it did--despite Cubals best efforts.
Jet Downed After Several Strafing Runs
Cuban Gen. Oscar Fernandez Mell, who was in charge of field operations
the morning Ray was killed, described in a recent interview how Ray's
B-26 was shot down after it made several daring strafing runs.
"The airplane fell in a cane field. We ran toward it. Then there was
an explosion and fire," he said. "I gave orders to recover everything
inside the aircraft."
But Ray and flight engineer Baker had already fled their cockpit.
Witnesses told Fernandez that the pair ran into a nearby cane field.
Baker was found holding a grenade; a Cuban soldier shot him.
Another soldier told Fernandez that he found Ray hiding in a nearby
forest, wounded but alive and armed. The soldier said he killed Ray in
Foreign Minister Raul Roa made headlines worldwide later that day when
he announced to the U.N. Security Council that Cuba had the body of a
U.S. pilot shot down during the invasion; "Proof of the Yankee
Intervention," the daily Revolucion declared the following day.
The United Nations never pursued the issue after the U.S. publicly
denied its involvement.
Baker, whose features appeared Latin, was buried along with other
unclaimed Cuban invaders soon after. But Ray, whose features did not,
was sent to Havanals Institute of Forensic Medicine, where mortician
Juan Menendez Tludela, now 75, recalls embalming him.
Menendez says he placed the body in a freezer, where it remained at
about 5 degrees below zero for 18 years and eight months.
"I never questioned why he was there; there were orders about him, and
that was enough for me," said Menendez, who cared for the body the
entire time. "of course, I knew he was an American pilot, but my orders
were to take care of him, to watch over him."
Cuban officials conceded that they did not know the identity of the body
until soon after they learned of Weininger's search for her father.
That information came through diplomatic notes sent to Cubals Foreign
Ministry from the U.S. Interest Section, Washington's diplomatic mission
in Havana, which opened in 1977, 16 years after the United States broke
off diplomatic relations with Castro and closed its embassy.
The only identification found at Ray's crash site in 1961 was fake CIA
documents for Baker.
It wasn't until 1979 that Cuban and FBI officials positively identified
Ray's body by matching it with fingerprints and dental records.
The day after Ray's death, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington
flatly denied rumors that the Alabama Air Guard had taken part in the
attack. President Kennedy, under fire from U.S. allies and enemies
alike, told reporters only: "I think that the facts of the matter
involving Cuba will come out in due time."
Though shattered and forever changed, the survivors of Ray's small group
of Guardsmen cfuletly went home to Birmingham and kept Kennedy's
secret--for decades. The word went around town that Ray and the others
had died in a cargo plane crash in an unrelated operation.
"They were about as good of secret keepers as you'd want to have," said
Bailey, the cousin who joined forces with Ray's daughter. "The
community soaked them back up, and the community helped them keep their
Asked why, Bailey said: "First, you've got the South, the way we are...
We're not always very forthcoming. Then, I think there's the issue
that the government scared the crap out of these people.
"The fear of God was just put in a lot of people here; the CIA came to
the houses of every one of my grandmother's 11 kids and interviewed
every one of them to see what they knew."
Among the stories that made the rounds in the family but were never
confirmed by the U.S. government, Bailey added, was that Ray's wife was
told that she would be committed to a mental institution for life if she
continued pressing to learn her husband's whereabouts.
"But thirdly," Bailey said, "sometimes you handle the pain of something
like this by just not talking about it."
Families Petition to Get Real Story
In the late 1970s, Bailey and Weininger sent 100 questions to the CIA
under the Freedom of Information Act, asking it to explain Ray's fate.
The agency never answered in writing. Instead, it sent two agents to
meet them in Selma, Ala., in the spring of 1978. There, Bailey and
Feininger recalled, the agents told the truth about Ray and handed over
two medals and a citation posthumously awarding Ray the Distinguished
But when the agency did provide the posthumous award, Weininger said,
"they told us not to mention anything about it to anyone."
Even after Ray's body went home the next year to a funeral that drew
many of the Air Guard veterans, along with Cuban survivors and even
one of the CIA agents who had briefed Bailey and Feininger, the CIA did
not acknowledge publicly that Ray and the other men had ever served
their country--until its statement to The Times last week.
Weininger and Bailey say--and the CIA papers declassified last month
confirm--that documents they ha-ve accumulated show that the agency set
up a front company that paid each dead pilot's family a regular stipend
and financed children's college educations--including Weininger's.
Relati-ves were told that the money was from a Miami company--not the
One of the CIA documents states that the fake company created to settle
"the legal and moral claims arising from these [airmen's] deaths has
been costly, complicated and fraught with risk of disclosure of the
The document adds: "In spite of the invasion failure, the story of the
American pilots has never gotten into print, although its sensational
nature still makes this a possibility. In dealing with the surviving
families, it has been necessary to conceal connection with the United
Clearly, however, the costs were not financial.
As for her own life, Weininger said: "You can say it's an obsession, but
to me it's an opportunity to look through somebody's window at a moment
of history and then be able to share it with people.
Everybody has to confront pain in their own way. No one gets out of it
without scars, but the difference is how those scars heal."
For Cuban officials, who say Castrols forces lost far more lives in the
Bay of Pigs than did the invaders, the CIA's recent admissions are a
vindication. But the case of Thomas "Pete" Ray, most say, remains one
"To me, dead people--even enemies--make me feel sad and sorry," said
retired Lt. Col. Arnelio Loynaz, who was assigned to check on Ray's
body in the mid-1970s.
"I feel sorry for him, and for his family."
Times staff writer Fineman reported from Havana, Washington, Miami and
Birmingham, Ala. Times researcher Mascarenas reported from Havana.
Forest Hill Cemetery
Created by: aircrew
Record added: Jun 07, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 53387769