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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.

  

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