BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Tuesday, a ceremony was held to honor four Alabama airmen who died in the secret Bay of Pigs mission in Cuba 61 years ago.
During the ceremony at Forest Hill Cemetery, a wreath was laid at the Birmingham gravesite of Thomas “Pete” Ray, who was part of the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based in Birmingham. The mission was part of a CIA operation to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. On April 19, 1961, Ray and other Alabama Airmen were shot down and killed before the mission could be carried out. It was almost two decades before their families were told the truth about what happened to them.
Ray’s daughter, Janet, joined CBS 42 Morning News anchor Andrea Lindenberg to talk about what the family went through after Ray’s death, as well as the year’s of not knowing the truth.
“The CIA told us that they were mercenaries and they drowned flying a plane in the Caribbean,” said Ray, who was 6 years old when her father died. “They did not tell us the truth.”
Ray said that right away, her family and the families of the other men killed in the operation knew that what they were being told was not true.
“My dad had always served in the military. He wasn’t a mercenary,” she said. “They made mistakes by saying things like, ‘Well, we saw the engine floating,’ and one of the widows said, ‘Engines don’t float.’ We knew immediately. It was right away.”
But why would the government deny this? Ray has her theory on the matter.
“I think everybody knew the United States was involved, but I think a lot of it was to protect the president (John F. Kennedy),” she said. “We need to destroy these men’s reputations and make them look like mercenaries so no one will ask any questions.”
Watch the full interview the video above.