|On the Trail of the Truth / NewsweekMay 6, 1998
On the Trail of the Truth One woman's mission to find out about her father forces the CIA to come clean
about the Bay of Pigs
by Evan Thomas, Newsweek
On the wall in the lobby of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., are 71 stars, one
for every CIA officer killed in action. Many of the stars are anonymous, because
the CIA does not want to reveal the secret identities and missions of its spies.
Next week, however, the names of four American pilots who died at the Bay of
Pigs, the CIA's greatest fiasco, will be entered in a "Book of Honor" in a glass
case below the stars. The CIA's willingness to pay public homage to these men,
37 years after they died, is largely owed to the obsession of a Florida
housewife named Janet Ray Weininger.
Janet's father, Thomas Willard (Pete) Ray, was an Alabama Air Guard pilot
recruited by the CIA for the invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Ray was only
supposed to train Cuban emigres to fly old B-26s. But by the second day of the
invasion, some of the Cubans were too exhausted and fearful to fly anymore, so
Ray volunteered. Shot down over Cuba, Ray survived the crash but was gunned down
fleeing the plane.Janet Ray, 6, was told none of the facts about her father's death. "He just
disappeared from the face of the earth," she recalled. The CIA fed her family a
cover story: that Ray had been a mercenary hired by wealthy Cubans and had
drowned when his plane crashed in the sea. Carrying an impression of her
father's teeth, Janet began seeking out her father's old friends and comrades.
In Miami's Little Havana, she handed out scraps of paper with her father's name
on them, hoping to unearth some clue. The U.S. government was of little use: the
CIA did not acknowledge that Ray had been on its payroll until 1972.
Ray had long heard rumors that her father had been captured at the Bay of Pigs.
So she began writing Fidel Castro. The Cuban government wrote back: her father's
body had been kept in a refrigerator in Havana. (When the United States denied
any involvement in the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Castro had threatened to bring the
body of an unidentified American pilot and lay it on a table at the United
Nations.) With some belated help from the State Department, Janet--now married
to an Air Force pilot named Michael Weininger--was able to bring her father's
body back for a proper burial in 1979.
With an open face and a cheerful manner, Janet Ray Weininger had by now become a
well-liked figure in the exile community in Little Havana. About five years ago,
she was approached by the families of a pair of Cuban pilots who had also been
killed at the Bay of Pigs. Could Weininger help bring their bodies back? The men
had died when their B-26 plunged into a mountainside while returning to the
CIA's secret base in Nicaragua after a mission over Cuba. When the CIA would not
reveal the crash site, Weininger vowed to find it herself. In 1995, traveling by
mule with a former Nicaraguan contra fighter, Weininger located the wreckage of
the plane--but no bodies--near a remote village. During the cold war, the CIA was notorious for abandoning native "freedom
fighters." This time, when Weininger asked the CIA for help in finding the
bodies of the Cuban pilots, a team from the Central Identification Laboratory in
Hawaii was dispatched to Nicaragua in four Blackhawks with an armed guard. She
went into the jungle with them. In early April, after a month of digging, the
team located the bones of two men believed to be the Cuban pilots. When the time
came to leave, Weininger was overcome by emotion. One of the Nicaraguans took
her arm and said to her in Spanish, "Valor"--courage. She climbed onto the
helicopter and tried not to look back.