Lieutenant Thomas “Pete” Ray, a member of the Alabama Air
National Guard, was shot down during the disastrous 1961 Bay of
Pigs invasion of Cuba. When he was found by Cuban soldiers on the
ground, he was shot along with his flight engineer Leo Baker.
Unlike Baker, Ray’s body was frozen for the next 18 years.
At the time of the invasion, the CIA denied any American
involvement. The agency also denied recruiting civilians in the
Alabama Air National Guard to provide air support and hit Fidel
Castro’s field headquarters with Napalm. But survivors of
the failed venture say they definitely were involved.
Castro wanted to prove the Americans were not only responsible
but they were providing real support to the invasion. That’s why
he kept the airman on ice. But the U.S. government would not take
responsibility and so could not repatriate Ray’s body.
The CIA would have to admit they were involved. Which meant they
would have to admit their failure. Cuba told the world it had
Ray’s body, so the body was no secret. The Cubans, according to
the LA Times, were puzzled. In December 1979, the cuban
government learned that Ray’s daughter was attempting to
negotiate the release of her father’s body.
Ray’s body was held for 18 years. The CIA denied involvement in
the Bay of Pigs invasion until 1998 when they admitted U.S.
pilots were shot down. But the agency never owned up to knowing
where Ray’s body was. The LA Times forced the CIA to admit
that Ray was one of theirs.
The CIA waited until the events surrounding the death of Ray and
other members of their secret air force were declassified. They
also revealed that Ray was awarded the CIA’s highest honor, the
Distinguished Intelligence Cross, and his name was added to the
Book of Honor in the foyer of CIA headquarters.
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