09/26/13 - The Alexander City Outlook - Author describes Alabamians role in illfated Cuban invasion
Author describes Alabamians role in ill-fated Cuban invasion
Published 10:23am Thursday, September 26, 2013
The ill-fated U.S. attempt to invade Cuba and remove Fidel Castro from
power was not only one of the most embarrassing episodes in the annals of
It was also a little known, heroic and tragic moment in Alabamas
military history, Warren Trest, co-author of Wings of Denial: The
Alabama Air National Guards Covert Role at the Bay of Pigs, told
Alexander City residents Monday.
I still get a little choked up and a little bit mad about it, he said of
the April 17, 1961 mission to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Trest shared the tale of Alabamians covert involvement at the Bay of Pigs
as part of the Horizons Unlimited lecture series at the Alexander City
Board of Education building.
For decades, the eight Alabamians roles in the failed invasion was veiled
in secrecy. The true circumstances behind the death of four of the
Alabamians was a closely guarded secret until the 1990s. Thomas Pete
Ray, Riley Shamburger, Leo Francis Baker and Wade Gray died when their
B-26 bombers were shot down supporting the unsuccessful invasion by an
undermanned team of Cuban dissenters. Four other Alabamians took part in
the mission, with dozens more involved in training or supplying the Cuban
Trest called the men unsung heroes of the Cold War. They were all
volunteers, drawn from the Air National Guard fighter wings based in
Birmingham and Montgomery. The joined the mission after then Gov. John
Patterson OKd on the urging of a CIA spook who approached him in the
final months of the Eisenhower administration.
Unfortunately for the Cuban and Alabamian troops involved in the mission,
secrecy was considered most important in the nuclear-tainted Cold War
atmosphere of the early 1960s. The most important part of the planning
process, Trest said, was to ensure the United States couldnt be blamed.
Plausible deniability of US involvement was a mission necessity and at
every phase of the planning (secrecy) trumped the tried and true military
tactics, he said.
Trest details the totality of the missions failure in his book. He also
describes the astounding lengths to which the government went to keep the
poorly guarded secret. For almost four decades, Ray, Baker, Shamburger and
Gray were officially considered soldiers of fortune killed in an
unsanctioned mission. It was thirty-six years after their deaths, in 1997,
before the CIA finally added stars for Ray, Shamburger, Baker and Gray to
the Wall of Honor at its Langley, Va. headquarters, Trest said. Ray was
the only Alabamian killed whose body was ever returned home. His body had
kept frozen in a Havana morgue 16 years a sort of war trophy, Trest
said, and it was only through pressure by his daughter Mary that the U.S.
ever pressured Castro to send his remains home for burial in 1979. Gov.
Patterson later said that if he had it to do all over again, I wouldnt
have given that CIA guy the time of day, Tress said. Trest is the former
senior historian with the U.S. Air Forces Historical Research Agency at
Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. He authored Wings of Denial with
Auburn Montgomery history professor Don Dodd. At Mondays Horizons
Unlimited lecture, Joyce Cauthen, executive director emeritus of the
Alabama Folklife Association, will discuss the banjo and fiddle players
who were Alabamas first pop music celebrities.October
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