This is why Fidel Castro froze the body of an American airman

Lieutenant Thomas “Pete” Ray, a member of the Alabama Air National Guard, was shot down during the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. When he was found by Cuban soldiers on the ground, he was shot along with his flight engineer Leo Baker. Unlike Baker, Ray’s body was frozen for the next 18 years.

Thomas "Pete"Ray.

Thomas “Pete” Ray.

At the time of the invasion, the CIA denied any American involvement. The agency also denied recruiting civilians in the Alabama Air National Guard to provide air support and hit Fidel Castro’s field headquarters with Napalm. But survivors of the failed venture say they definitely were involved.

Castro wanted to prove the Americans were not only responsible but they were providing real support to the invasion. That’s why he kept the airman on ice. But the U.S. government would not take responsibility and so could not repatriate Ray’s body.

Bay of pigs invasion

The flag of assault brigade 2506, who invaded the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

The CIA would have to admit they were involved. Which meant they would have to admit their failure. Cuba told the world it had Ray’s body, so the body was no secret. The Cubans, according to the LA Times, were puzzled. In December 1979, the cuban government learned that Ray’s daughter was attempting to negotiate the release of her father’s body.

Thomas "Pete"Ray.

Janet Ray Weininger with a picture of her father Thomas “Pete”Ray.

Ray’s body was held for 18 years. The CIA denied involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion until 1998 when they admitted U.S. pilots were shot down. But the agency never owned up to knowing where Ray’s body was.  The LA Times forced the CIA to admit that Ray was one of theirs.

The CIA waited until the events surrounding the death of Ray and other members of their secret air force were declassified. They also revealed that Ray was awarded the CIA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, and his name was added to the Book of Honor in the foyer of CIA headquarters.

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