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Bay of Pigs Airmen Remembered

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ken Johnson
  • 117th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Members from the 117th Air Refueling Wing gathered in Forest Lawn Cemetery at the gravesite of Thomas "Pete" Ray friday as Lt. Col. Darryl Jett laid a wreath in his honor.

On April 19, 1961 Ray, Riley Shamburger, Wade Gray and Leo Baker, died after the two B-26 Marauder aircrafts they were flying were shot down over Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Ray and Baker survived the crash but were later killed by Fidel Castro's army. The bodies of Shamburger and Gray were never recovered. Ray's body is the only one of the four aviators that was returned to the United States.

The Bay of Pigs operation was a Central Intelligence Agency mission intended to use Cuban exiles to invade the island of Cuba and start a revolution against Fidel Castro. Conducted in secrecy, it was carried out in part by Airmen from the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, which later became the 117th Air Refueling Wing. Due to the secret nature of the mission, no one in the Alabama Air National Guard was allowed to discuss the mission or what had happened to the airmen for over two decades. It was another twenty years before the CIA publically acknowledged the failed invasion and the loss of the Alabama aviators.

A reception was held at the Southern Museum of Flight following the graveside ceremony where Col. Scott Grant, 117 ARW Vice Commander, recognized family and surviving members of the invasion.