THE MIAMI HERALD
Sunday, June 21, 1987
CANDACE M. TURTLE Herald Staff Writer
Illustration: color photo: Janet Weininger with photo
of father (t),
Janet Ray in first grade (r); photo: Peter Ray in high
(r), Janet with mother Margaret and brother Tom (n), Pete
All day and all night the planes take off and return. The
steady, powerful, mesmerizing roar of their engines blankets
the neatly trimmed lawns and the government-issue housing
Janet Weininger lives here at Homestead Air Force Base
with her husband, a pilot, and their two children, a
6-year-old boy and an infant daughter. They are the picture
of military normalcy. On Friday nights the parents go to the
officer's club for drinks. Her red-haired, freckled-faced
little boy sneaks his Cub Scout uniform into his backpack
and puts it on when he gets to school because he likes to be
in uniform just like his father, and on Saturdays the whole
family eats pizza together.
The furniture is sturdy and neutral, the kind that can
blend in anywhere. The only note of disorder in the house is
supplied by the pink vinyl valise, the kind a teen-ager
might take to a slumber party, fully opened on the beige
plush carpet of the living area, bursting with yellowed
newspaper clips and old snapshots and cassette tapes and
hand scrawled notes and letters and finally, most improbable
of all, a tissue-wrapped set of dental impressions that
Janet has carried with her everywhere for 26 years. She has
stared at them; she has studied them; she knows how to
identify a body from them.
There is no need for that anymore, of course. But Janet
clings to them, like all the other items in her suitcase,
because they are her history, the relics of her life, and
all she will ever have of her father.
Her family doesn't understand, nor do her friends, nor
the Americans in whose service her father died at a place
called the Bay of Pigs.
Only Cubans understand. Only Cubans, with their own
suitcases overflowing with yellowing photographs and the
documents of despair. The Cubans understand, and they
embrace this girl-sized woman from the Deep South,
recognizing that her loss is as large and as personal as
theirs, and her obsession as enduring.
Janet Weininger is one South Florida Anglo who does not
need to be persuaded that some struggles never end.
Janet was excited. Her mother had told her to stay at
home and wait for her brother, Tom, to come home from school
because she had something to tell them. Janet, 6, had tried
teasing the secret out of her mother earlier, but it didn't
work. Didn't matter, she was pretty sure she knew anyhow.
Her mother was going to tell her that her father, a pilot,
was coming home.
Janet was waiting on the front porch with Chase, her dog.
"Hurry up," she yelled when she saw Tom across the
street. "Mom's got a secret to tell us."
The children ran inside their grandmother's house where
they were staying while their dad was away. They sat side by
side on the bottom of their bunk bed.
At first her mother didn't say anything. Janet could tell
something was wrong.
"Daddy isn't going to come back anymore," she
said. "He died. He's going to look after us from
Janet felt only rage. "What a lie," Janet
thought. "Why would grown-ups tell me such
Her daddy wore flight suits. He was special. He took her
up in a plane, and together they'd look down on the world
transformed, a place she called Midgetland. "My father
is coming home," she shrieked over and over again.
"He always comes home."
Her mother reached out to console her. How she hated
those pats, that touch. She pulled away from her arms. Her
body was stiff and hot. "I don't want anyone to touch
me," she said. "Leave me alone."
Janet had never even said a proper goodbye. Her father,
Pete Ray had come home for a quick visit about three weeks
before the invasion. When it was time for him to leave,
Janet was watching Tarzan on television and wanted to see
the end of the episode. At the last minute, she changed her
mind. She jumped up and ran to the door, but she was too
late. She could see the back of her father's head as the car
drove off, but he didn't hear her call, he didn't turn
around for one last wave.
Tom wasn't crying. She hated him for that. She said the
meanest thing she could.
"You stupid fool," she shouted at him.
"Why aren't you crying? We just lost our daddy."
Of all the people in her family, she was most like her
dad. Not like her mom and Tom who were quiet and good and
She squirmed away from her mother's embrace and picked up
Chase. They sat on the front porch for hours while Janet
cried. Her mother could say whatever she wanted to. Janet
would listen only to the new voice inside her. It said:
Janet was in first grade when Pete Ray's B-26 was shot
down over Cuba. He was one of four Americans killed during
the aborted April 1961 invasion.
Ray had been hired by the CIA. He was to have supplied
part of the massive air support the United States had
promised the more than 1,400 U.S.-trained Cuban exiles
poised to storm Castro's island two years after his
revolution had dispossessed them. Ray's mission was to train
Cuban pilots for three months in secret Guatemalan and
Nicaraguan bases, then fly bombing raids in the invasion
itself. When the time came, he flew in cutoffs and a
T-shirt, without insignia, in hopes of maintaining the
illusion that the invasion didn't involve Americans. With
his fair hair, closely cropped in the American style of the
time, it was a vain hope.
The B-26 was a big, slow World War II-era bomber. The
pilots set out from Nicaragua expecting to meet an escort of
American fighter jets near Cuba. But President Kennedy
changed the plans at the last moment; the fighters never
showed. Ray was a sitting duck.
Janet didn't understand the invasion, she didn't know
anything about Fidel Castro. She just wanted to know why
they didn't have a funeral if her father was dead.
No one would tell her anything about how her father had
died -- not her mother or her uncles or her grandfather.
They couldn't even tell her for sure that her father was
dead. There were rumors that he was a prisoner in one of
Castro's jails along with more than 1,000 Cubans captured in
"If he was dead," she thought, "why wasn't
there a body?"
She asked questions at home. "How did my dad
die?" she asked. "Is he a prisoner? Where's his
"Shush," her aunts said. "Don't upset your
"Now, Jan, don't go on so," her uncles said.
"Your father wouldn't like it."
Grown-ups stopped talking in front of her and changed the
subject when she came into the room.
At night, she made paper airplanes for her father to fly
home on. She hid them by the mailbox.
He'd always returned from
Midgetland, hadn't he?
It took years for the U.S. government to admit that any
of the Americans involved in the invasion were employed by
the CIA. The Americans who died had been on their own,
mercenaries, official statements insisted.
The problem was that Pete Ray had told his wife that he
was working for the CIA. Margaret Ray knew the official
version was a lie. She had lost her husband in a military
action in the service of her country, and all the government
could come up with was the word, "mercenary." She
was angry, horribly depressed, and soon she would become
frightened. The Rays had been caught up in the bizarre world
of international intrigue and covert action. They were
briefly living under a media spotlight that brought out
reporters and kooks. They may or may not have been the
target of an official campaign of intimidation. In
retrospect, it is difficult to know how much of the paranoia
that blossomed in the Ray family was justified by reality,
and how much was justified only by grief.
But Janet's memories of those years are colored by a wash
of peculiar events. Strange men would stop the children on
their way to school and question them. The children found
cigarette butts under the trees near their home.
"Maybe people were watching us to keep us
safe," said Tom Ray. "We don't know."
Janet's grandmother contacted the general of the air base
to try to find out more about Pete Ray's death. The next
day, a new man was hired at the JC Penney where she worked.
He walked up to her in the lunchroom and told her she would
be in trouble if she didn't stop asking questions about the
Bay of Pigs and what happened to her son. Several months
later, when she quit, he quit.
Janet's mother's grief turned to terror. She would sit up
nights holding a pistol, afraid of intruders. Communist
agents? The CIA? Local pranksters drawn by the publicity?
She didn't know which. She told her family that a lawyer,
supposedly hired by the CIA to handle the financial affairs
of the widows of the downed American fliers, took the four
women on a tour of the Birmingham jail and threatened to
have them imprisoned and their children taken away if they
didn't stop asking questions.
The children took their cue from the adults. When the
family returned from an evening out, Janet and Tom would
take butcher knives from the kitchen and slash them through
closets, under beds, through the dirty laundry in case
someone was hiding. This went on for two years.
"When we would come home, when it was dark, we would
just normally go get the butcher knives," Janet says
now. Nothing made any sense, but it all fueled Janet's
anger, sharpened her conviction that things were being kept
from her, secrets that she would have to discover for
herself. That was when she began to hide her tape recorder
under the living room couch.
On her way home from school one day 18 months after her
father disappeared, when Castro was releasing prisoners
taken during the invasion, Janet was stopped by a man in a
suit, a stranger. "Is your daddy coming home
today?" he asked.
Janet's heart pounded; this was exactly what she had
dreamed about. The man must know her daddy was coming back.
She flung her schoolbooks to the ground and started
running. Her braids slapped her back as if urging her to run
faster and faster. She slipped and rolled into a ditch and
was covered with mud. Without stopping to brush herself off,
she tore through the woods. "Daddy's coming home,
Daddy's coming home," she yelled. Up the steps she ran
and into the kitchen. "Mom, Daddy's coming home,"
she said. Her mother looked at her hard and didn't say
When the prisoners flew to Homestead, Janet watched them
land on television, her nose inches from the screen. She
scanned the black and white images for her father. When the
last liberated prisoner disappeared from the screen, Janet
began to weep.
Later, the Rays went over to Janet's great-grandmother's
house. After they ate, the children were sent to bed in the
pea room, a back bedroom lined with jars of preserves and
Janet waited until her brother fell asleep. Then she
sneaked out through the bedroom and under her
great-grandmother Bailey's bed. There she could see across
to the living room and hear the grown-ups.
While she hid under a bed on the cold floor, peeking out
behind the white fringe of the bedspread, she listened to
her grandmother and mother talking. Something is wrong with
Janet, they said.
"Every time Jan sees something on TV, she gets her
hopes up," her grandmother said. "She's just not
accepting that Pete's gone. Maybe we should take her to a
She was still hiding when Granny Bailey, her daddy's
grandmother, came into the room, seized her by the foot and
dragged her out from under the bed.
Janet thought she was in trouble, but Granny Bailey
didn't tell on her. "What's the matter," Granny
Bailey asked. "Can't sleep? Come on let's go out on the
She grabbed one of her handmade quilts from the foot of
the bed, and the two snuggled together on the old wooden
porch swing. Janet's feet couldn't touch the porch, but her
great- grandmother kept the swing moving back and forth,
making the stars look closer, then farther away, as if they
were flying. The air was cool against Janet's cheeks, but
there was a warm cloud of air under the quilt.
"I'm not going to promise you life is fair, because
it is not," Granny Bailey said. "But no matter
what happens to you, always fight for your happiness, fight
for what you know is right and fight for your dad."
Two years after Pete Ray was shot down, President Kennedy
Janet Ray heard the news when she was climbing onto the
"Did you know the president was shot?" her
They were sad. Janet wasn't. "This serves you right,
Kennedy. You didn't give my daddy a chance, now you didn't
have a chance," she thought. She watched his funeral on
TV quietly and felt a little sad for Caroline and John-John.
They were like Tom and her now. They didn't have a daddy
"If he can have a funeral, my dad should too,"
Janet rigged her tape recorder so she could turn it off
and on from the hallway with a string she ran under the rug.
Mostly, she listened to her mother talk about her father
to friends. Her memories of him were worshipful, but not
very long on information. By eavesdropping, she learned the
names of other pilots or her father's friends and carefully
wrote the names in a spiral notebook, so she could find the
men later on.
She became independent and single-minded, probably not
the kind of girl her father, a man who believed that women
should be naive and protected, would have understood. She
clipped newspaper articles about the Bay of Pigs and slipped
them into a box with the family album. When she was older,
she spent the weekends at the Birmingham library reading and
copying old newspaper clips. She added those copies to the
album, until her clips overflowed into another box and
eventually into the pink suitcase. Nothing she had read or
heard stripped her of the hope that her father was still
The Rays made frequent trips to relatives and friends,
sometimes to the widows of the other three Americans who
died in the invasion. Wherever the Ray family went, Janet
carried the heavy family album, and the dentist's impression
of her father's teeth. She was afraid they would be lost or
stolen. They were all that remained of her dad.
Janet's search for her father gathered momentum when she
earned her driver license and could travel on her own. She
really didn't know what to do. All she knew was that she had
to keep asking questions. She'd take the names she'd
gathered from the overheard conversations and call every
matching name in the phone book until she found the right
one. Many refused to talk. They said they'd been told to
keep their mouths shut, that they were nearing retirement
and didn't need the trouble. Other men wept when they
remembered the deaths and the stupidity of the failed
One of these was a man who had gone to high school with
her father and was one of the last men to see him alive
before he took off. The men had sat on the wing of the
plane, and Pete Ray had given the man his identification,
but kept his cash. Ray made a joke that he might need it in
Havana that night.
Janet collected information any way she could. Once she
sneaked a book on the invasion out of her mother's bedroom.
It was written by Buck Persons, another of the Alabamians
who flew for the CIA operation.
She called him up.
"What happened to my daddy?" she asked.
She wanted to know everything. The tail number of the
plane her father flew, the names of the men who flew with
him. What time was he shot down? What was he wearing when he
flew? Was there an explosion when the plane crashed? She
piled question upon question. She needed to pinpoint where
his body might be, and whether he was dead or not. But she
also had to build a man out of those photos and her fading
"Tell me the good things, the bad things," she
"That little bitty girl is going to wear Castro to a
nubbin," Persons said to himself.
In a street corner on Miami's Calle
Ocho, a young woman
with a soft Alabama accent stopped passersby and begged for
their help. She had flown in earlier that day, a college
student on spring break, choosing to spend her vacation on
the streets of Miami while her friends headed for the beach.
She was directed to a hotel by the cab driver who picked her
up at the airport, and who, in what she considered at the
least a mildly happy coincidence, happened to be Cuban and
happened to know exactly how to find little Havana.
She walked the streets. One of her first stops was Domino
Park, with its concrete tables and arbored roof, an utterly
old- world enclave, the daily headquarters of many older
Cuban men who wear hats, smoke cigars and share a history of
exile while slapping the black and white tiles on the table
top. A woman, especially an Anglo, who attempts to invade
this macho world is conspicuous. There was something
particularly needy about the expression on the face of this
young woman. She kept thrusting little scraps of paper into
the hands of anyone who would take them, and the urgency of
her gesture was rendered even more touching and useless by
the fact that her message was written in English rather than
in the language of the people whose attention she craved.
"Do you know my father?" she asked. "His
name is Pete Ray, and he was an American pilot shot down in
the Bay of Pigs. He was from Alabama, he flew B-26s."
She scanned their eyes for recognition of his name and
pressed the paper with her home phone number on anyone who
would take them. "Call me collect in Alabama if you
know anything," she urged.
Over and over she asked people. Many brushed her aside,
not understanding her English, not understanding the
desperation that brought a college student from Alabama to
Little Havana. Finally one old man who spoke both languages
listened to her story. He told her he would help. He wrote
the words in Spanish. Me llamo Janet Ray . . . . She went
into a store with a Xerox machine and made copies of it. And
amid the mingled odors of a city street, the garlic, the
coffee, the car exhaust, for hours every day, in her
practical sneakers, she walked into stores, into restaurants
"Hello," she said. The people would turn,
fastening their gaze on the peppy chubby-cheeked childlike
face, alive with sincerity. Her voice was honeyed and
Southern, soft and swaying, but not her words. They were
direct and specific: "Do you know my daddy? His name is
Janet collected information piece by piece. Men said her
father was a good pilot, careful. So he could have landed
There seemed little question that he went down in Cuba.
Nobody could tell her for sure if her father was killed in
the plane crash, if he was shot by a firing squad or if he
was a prisoner. There was even a crazy rumor that the
missing men were in Vietnam, flying secret missions for the
The search had no timetable. Janet maintained her grades
and dated. But she also worked on the mystery, and piece by
piece she gained a picture of the circumstances surrounding
her father's disappearance.
Some claimed they had heard there was a body; others said
they had seen photographs of her father taken after his
death. There were rumors that an American's body had been
kept at a
morgue in Havana.
She made trips to Miami whenever she could. In many ways,
it was the place she felt most at home. She searched out the
Bay of Pigs veterans, especially other pilots. Most were
happy to talk of what they knew. They wanted to help her.
Their hands dipped and scooped the air as they demonstrated
their air battles. Their voices grew loud with excitement.
They told her her father was a hero who died fighting
Castro's men. To those who were reluctant to speak of the
secret mission, she handed a blank cassette tape. Record
your memories now, she told them, and leave the tape
somewhere safe marked with my name so it will get to me
after you die.
She met children of Cuban pilots who had never returned
from the invasion and felt an immediate kinship with them.
For the first time Janet felt she could share her pain,
her mission and her patriotism "without being
shamed." She was among people who understood her.
hen Janet met Mike
Weininger, an Air Force officer who
was in flight training at Craig Air Force Base in Selma,
near her home, she felt immediately at ease. She had dated
other men, but they weren't like her. She was very patriotic
in a time when most college students were protesting the
Vietnam War. If she learned that a date had enrolled in
college to dodge the draft, she didn't say anything, but
wouldn't date him again.
She was comfortable around Weininger and his boisterous
classmates who were so like her dad with their short
haircuts, smooth faces and green Nomex flight suits. They
even smelled the same as her dad did after a flight, a
mixture of hot fuel exhaust and synthetic flight suit
She felt they understood her. She didn't talk much about
her father, but she didn't need to. Weininger supported her.
She kept hunting.
She learned that her father was not a man of special
skills or talent. He fell into history because he knew how
to fly the B-26, an aging bomber that happened to be the
same type of plane the Cubans used. The CIA hoped the
invading bombers would be confused for Cuban air force
planes and that people would believe the move to overthrow
Castro came from within.
Ray seized the chance. He had been flying on weekends for
the Air National Guard, and working on the ground as an
inspector for Hayes Aircraft in Birmingham the rest of the
week. The CIA would pay him enough to support his wife, and
his children, and he would be flying all the time. "If
I die flying, you know I'll die happy," he once told
He almost didn't fly in the invasion at all after
Kennedy's last-minute order that Americans be kept out of
the fight. Cuban pilots were supposed to do all the combat
flying, but they were exhausted after a day or so. It was a
six-hour round trip from Nicaragua to Cuba. The losses were
"It was terrible back at the barracks," said
Eduardo Ferrer, a Cuban cargo plane pilot and morale officer
for the pilots. "After someone was hit, they would put
his stuff on his bunk. There were more and more bunks piled
with stuff. You said, Jesus, what is going on?"
Some of the Cuban pilots refused to fly the B-26s without
fighter support, saying the missions were tantamount to
Meanwhile, the men on the beaches were taking a beating.
The pilots had grown close in their months together --
the Cubans who laughed at the Alabamians' attempts to speak
Spanish, the Americans who liked to listen to the Cubans'
It is not clear if Ray knew of the orders to keep
Americans out, but it is certain the decision was up to him:
to fly, or to stay in Nicaragua. Ray flew.
Ray bombed Castro's headquarters at the Australian sugar
mill about 15 miles north of the bay, finished his run and
was ready to head for home when his B-26 was hit by fire
from a Cuban T-33 fighter. He was forced to crash land on a
His copilot, flight engineer Leo Francis Baker, probably
was killed in the landing or shortly after, according to
various accounts. Pete Ray came out fighting, pistol in
hand. He was hit with a spray of automatic gunfire across
the abdomen and in the right hand by Castro's militiamen,
but the killing shot probably was one of two fired into his
head at close range by a Cuban militiaman.
Pete Ray might be alive today if it hadn't been for the
overzealous militiamen. Bay of Pigs veterans say Castro was
furious when he learned the blond pilot had been shot
instead of taken prisoner. He wanted him alive so he could
prove that Americans were behind the invasion. The CIA
apparently didn't know if Ray was dead or a prisoner. Castro
certainly wasn't returning Weininger's telegrams, sent in
care of the presidential palace, Havana, Cuba.
"I tried calling a lot, but I never got through of
course," Weininger said. "I must have sent
hundreds of telegrams. Short ones, I mean nothing special
just like: 'You have children. Would you do the same thing
to your children?' "
In 1978, the pieces came faster and started falling
Her cousin Tom Bailey, a journalist with The Birmingham
News, had started to help her. He steered her to government
officials and wrote several stories about the case that put
pressure on politicians to help Janet.
She met Alabama Sen. John
Sparkman, then head of the
Foreign Relations Committee, and asked for his help.
Sparkman actively worked on the case, writing letters to
people within the Cuban Interest Section in Washington as
well as within the United States government, until his
retirement in January 1979.
Janet told Sparkman that the CIA had promised to give the
families of the four Americans medals but never had.
Within a week, a CIA agent called the Ray family and said
the agency would present them with the CIA's Distinguished
Intelligence Cross, the highest medal the CIA awards
civilians, at their home in the evening.
Before the men arrived, Janet went outside. She adjusted
the floodlights that usually bathed the exterior of the
house at night to focus in a pool of light just in front of
the porch. When the men approached the house, she was ready.
She snapped their photo. She did it deliberately because she
knew how much it would bother them. She kept the picture so
she would have something on them, an edge.
She had never really trusted what they told her. They had
soft hands. She wanted to hear from the men with calluses,
the men who were actually involved in the invasion.
The agents weren't happy about having their picture taken
or that her cousin the journalist was there. They handed
over the certificate and the medal, a flat bronze disc about
three inches in diameter.
"You can't show anybody any of this," the men
Without hard proof of her father's death, Janet kept
pushing government officials to tell her what had happened
In April 1979 Janet was living with her husband at Hahn
Air Base in Germany. It was a rare sunny day. She rolled the
windows down on the car when she went to pick up her mail
and enjoyed the warm air blowing her hair, the roar of the
jets low overhead.
She grabbed the mail, jumped back in the car and started
for home. At a stop sign, she idly glanced at the envelopes.
One was from Peter Wyden, a man who was writing a book about
the invasion and had interviewed her months before. During
the interview, Wyden told Janet the Cuban government had a
Bay of Pigs photograph of two dead American pilots, probably
her father and his copilot. He had said he would try to mail
a copy to her.
The envelope was heavy and stiff, as if it contained
Janet froze. The wind, the jets roaring . . . the sound
just turned off. Her heart pounded and her hands shook as
she tore into the envelope. The prints were rough
black-and-whites without much contrast, and the two men's
faces weren't completely clear.
They were clear enough.
She recognized the man in the white T-shirt, with the
bullet holes in his face.
It was April 19, 1979, the 18th anniversary of her
It was the hard proof she had been waiting for, but it
wasn't enough. She still wanted to know what had happened to
Ask her about it today, and she says this:
"Emotionally, I just couldn't accept it."
In the summer of 1979, after years of lobbying senators,
and hundreds of letters and telegrams from Janet to the
presidential palace in Havana, the Cuban government
confirmed that it had Pete Ray's body. It had been kept in a
Intact, after 18 years.
They agreed to return it.
There was a light drizzle at the Birmingham Municipal
Airport. A few weeks pregnant, sick to her stomach and
exhausted, Janet waited for the plane carrying her father's
coffin. It would land on the same runway 30-year-old Pete
Ray had taken off from 18 years before.
Janet waited next to the ambulance. The plane taxied up,
and the body was quickly transferred. She wanted to
accompany the body to the hospital morgue, but the driver
said it was against the rules.
Janet hadn't taken no for an answer from senators, CIA
agents and Cuban officials. The driver was out of his
For the 30-minute drive to the morgue, Janet huddled over
the pine box that contained the coffin, her cheek resting on
the cool damp wood. Her arm was draped over the top, where
an American flag soon would lie.
She remembered again her father taking her flying. How he
listened patiently to her talk when everyone else called her
motor mouth and how she loved to watch him shave his
whiskers in the mornings. Daddy, she thought, I'm glad
Ray's body was taken to the morgue at Cooper Green
Hospital in Birmingham for an autopsy. A Cuban doctor
volunteered to perform the autopsy. Janet gave permission.
Her cousin, Tom Bailey; her husband, her brother and her
father's brother were there. The coffin, a simple black box
covered in black material sat on a dolly at waist height.
Janet had made up her mind. She was going to look at her
father's body. After all the years of questions, rumors and
disbelief, she had to see for herself.
Her brother tried to talk her out of it.
"Jan, you don't want to remember Dad this way, it's
not going to look very nice."
The other men appealed to her husband.
"Let her do what she wants," Mike Weininger
The morgue attendant hesitated. "If you don't open
that casket so I can see him, I'll do it," Janet said.
He pulled up the lid.
A white, gauze-like cloth stretched across the box from
side to side, covering the body. Only Pete Ray's face was
visible, surrounded by the material, which was gathered
close around his head.
Janet knew immediately.
"I don't need any further identification," she
said. "That's my daddy."
She stared at the body for about 10 minutes.
This is my last time, she thought. She hated the material
being wrapped around his head. It looked like a halo. The
cloth was too clean and white and pure. He died in battle,
she thought. He needs his uniform. She thought she would
hurry home to make sure it was dry cleaned and ready.
Pete Ray was buried Saturday, Dec. 8 1979, with full
military honors. Eduardo Ferrer came to represent Brigade
2506, the Bay of Pigs invasion force, and presented the
family with a Cuban flag and a plaque. About a dozen Cubans
who lived in the area also came.
Gov. George Wallace attended the service in his
wheelchair to pay his respects.
"Little girl, I'm mighty proud of you," he
said. "The whole state of Alabama is mighty proud of
you. You brought us home a fine Alabamian."
Even her CIA caseworker came, ducking his head to hide
from the newspaper cameras.
There was a 21-gun salute. Overhead, four jets flew by
the cemetery in the ceremonial fingertip formation. Then the
lead plane peeled away from the others and disappeared over
Janet returned to the cemetery to sit near the grave
after the funeral. She needed to be alone with her father
after the commotion of the past few days. The phone had rung
nonstop with calls from friends, relatives and the media.
She really didn't want to talk to anyone else.
Earlier, she had written a five-page letter to her father
and tucked it into the breast pocket of the uniform Pete Ray
was buried in. She told him she was glad he was home, she
told him how proud she was. She told him that at first she
didn't understand why he had risked his life to fight in
someone else's war. But after her years of talking to Cuban
veterans and their
families, she wrote, she now knew he had done it for
"If you ever had to do it over again," the
letter said, "I would want you to do it the same
She sat quietly by the freshly turned dirt covered with
flowers and wished she didn't have to leave her father so
soon after he had come home.
On July 21, 1980, her baby was born. She named him Pete.
Janet Weininger is serious about her job as an Air Force
wife. She always says, "That's why we're in the service
. . . " or "We feel it's our duty." She is
not morbid, far from it. She is lively, cheerful, funny. But
death is a matter-of- fact thing for her. She talks about it
easily. It's a good thing to do. Death is a day-to-day
possibility for jet-fighter pilots. Janet has already
attended a half-dozen funerals of her husband's comrades.
"I think it's part of my job to be strong and
independent and look after the kids."
If her husband died, she said, "I know I could
Janet stands on a street corner in Calle Ocho.
It's a beautiful Miami spring day. She has been asked to
speak on the 26th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Behind Janet is a monument to the fallen soldiers. It
includes her father's name.
"She is our daughter now," says veteran Eduardo
Janet steps up to the microphone. She is the only person
who speaks in English, but her message is the same -- that
the fight against communism must go on.
Members of the brigade come to attention and salute the
daughter of the American who died in their country, fighting
their cause. And then the ceremony is over. But Janet is not
finished. Here is an entire crowd of Bay of Pigs veterans,
hundreds of people who may possess one more detail. She can
never know enough. Janet steps into the crowd.
"Hi," she says, pulling a notebook from her
purse. "Did you know my dad?"
After the speech she returned to Homestead Air Force
Base, where she lives in her government-issue house, with a
manicured lawn and Pete's bike in the driveway. At the end
of the summer, her husband plans to leave the Air Force, but
like her father, he too will join the reserves. That night,
drained by the emotion of the day, sleep came quickly,
surrounded as she was by her favorite sound, the constant
enveloping roar of planes leaving and returning, leaving and
All content © 1987 THE MIAMI HERALD
and may not be republished without permission.
All archives are stored on a SAVE (tm) newspaper library
system from MediaStream Inc., a Knight-Ridder Inc. company