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Ceremonies Held to Remember Fallen Airmen

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ken Johnson
  • 117th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The 117th Air Refueling Wing held two ceremonies here on April 18 to honor four Alabama Air National Guard Airmen who were killed in action during the Bay of Pigs invasion.

On April 19, 1961 two B-26 aircraft operated by Thomas "Pete" Ray, Riley Shamburger, Wade Gray and Leo Baker were shot down by Cuban fighter jets.

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 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 publicly acknowledged the failed invasion and the loss of the Alabama Airmen.

A private nose art dedication ceremony was held on base in the maintenance hangar. Special guest during the ceremony were fellow 117 RW Airmen Dr. Charles Yates, Mr. Roy Wilson, Mr. Freddy Raley and Chief Jim Glenn who were involved in the mission.

"When we lost our pilots that was really bad. It's a sad thing for them not to come back" said Yates.

A public grave side service was held later in the day at the tomb of Ray in the Forest Hill Cemetery. Ray's body is the only one of the four airmen that was returned to the United States.

The service began with a prayer by Chaplain Daryl Hamaker followed by Lt. Col. Michael Metcalf laying a wreath at the grave of Ray. The service concluded with a 21-rifle salute by the 117 ARW Honor Guard follow by the playing of Taps by Master Sgt. Richard Bailey.

For more information of the Alabama Air National Guard's participation in the Bay of Pigs invasion please visit the Encyclopedia of Alabama .