Alabama Air National Guard to honor 4 airmen who died during failed Bay of Pigs mission

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Tuesday, the 117th Air Refueling Wing will hold a memorial ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs mission, which took the lives of four Alabama airmen.

The service will be held at 3:30 p.m. in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Birmingham at the gravesite of Thomas “Pete” Ray.

This April 1961 file photo shows Fidel Castro, center, with members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces at his base of operations at the Australia Sugar Refinery in Jaguey, near Playa Giron, during the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. (AP Photo/Str)

The ceremony will pay tribute to the lives of Leo Baker, Wade Gray, Pete Ray, and Riley Shamburger. It will also honor the Alabama Air National Guard’s involvement in the Bay of Pigs operation.

The ceremony became an annual tradition in 2012 when the 117th decided to place a wreath on Ray’s grave. They felt that the fallen airmen deserved to be recognized for their heroic sacrifices during an operation that was kept secret for decades.

The Bay of Pigs mission, which took place April 17-20, 1961, was coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency and was intended to use Cuban exiles to invade mainland Cuba and start a revolution against Fidel Castro.

The operation was conducted in secrecy and involved airmen from the 117th Reconnaissance Wing, now known as the 117th Air Refueling Wing (Alabama Air National Guard).

Counter-attack by Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces supported by T-34 tanks near Playa Giron during the Bay of Pigs invasion, 19 April 1961. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Four airmen were killed in action during the execution of the operation. Due to the mission being classified as top secret, the Alabama National Guard was forbidden to discuss the operation or what had happened for over 20 years.

It was another two decades before the CIA publicly acknowledged the failed invasion and the loss of the Alabama airmen.

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