It was midnight in Manhattan, Sunday, April 16, when the telephone rang in the fashionable East Side apartment of Lem Jones. Sleepily, Jones answered, then came alert with a jolt. It was the Central Intelligence Agency calling from Washington.

"This is it," Jones's agency contact told him. The invasion had begun. The CIA man dictated the first communiqué, to be issued to the world by Jones in the name of the Cuban Revolutionary Council. Jones took it down in longhand on a pad.

"Before dawn," the CIA man dictated slowly, "Cuban patriots in the cities and in the hills began the battle to liberate our homeland from the despotic rule of Fidel Castro and rid Cuba of international Communism's cruel oppression ..."

It had been a peaceful Sunday for Jones, and he had received no advance inkling that midnight would be the start of D-Day. He knew the Council had met during the early afternoon at the Hotel Lexington on 48th Street and Lexington Avenue. (It had named one of its members, Carlos Hevia, to be the minister of foreign affairs when a new government was established in Cuba.) In midafternoon, Jones had called the hotel and tried to reach Miro Cardona. He was puzzled when he was told that there was no answer, but thought little about it.

There was a good reason why Jones was unable to reach his clients. At about 3:30 P.M., CIA agents, avoiding the main exit, spirited Cardona, Hevia and the other members of the Council out of the hotel. The Cubans were told only that they were being taken to Miami for something important.

They were driven by the CIA to Philadelphia, where they boarded a plane and were flown to Opa- locka. There for three days, the men who were to lead a free Cuba were virtually held prisoner in a barracks-like house, all but barren of furniture. They learned about the start of their invasion on a radio.

But Jones knew nothing of this at the time. The call from Washington had instructed him to take the communique across town to the Hotel Statler and show it to Antonio Silio, the secretary treasurer of the Council, and Ernesto Aragon, Cardona's right-hand man. Silo was registered at the hotel under an assumed name.

Jones typed the communique himself. He grabbed a taxi outside of his apartment at 39th Street and Second Avenue and took it to the Statler, where he showed the announcement to the two Cubans. Then, at 2:00 A.M., he started distributing it, still by taxi, to the wire services. It began:

Via: Lem Jones Associates, Inc.
280 Madison Avenue
New York, New York
April 17, 1961

Bulletin No.1

The following statement was issued this morning by Dr. Jose Miro Cardona, president of the Cuban Revolutionary Council:

"Before dawn Cuban patriots in the cities and in the hills began the battle to liberate our homeland ..."

At Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, at 1:15 A.M. on Monday, April 17, six B-26 bombers were lined up on the runway, ready to carry out the second strike against Castro's air bases. Their targets were Camaguey, Cienfuegos, San Antonio de los Banos, Camp Libertad, Santa Clara and also Managua, an Army base where U-2 photos had shown more than forty heavy tanks lined up in the open.

The planes were set to take off from Happy Valley at 1:49 A.M. They would strike just before dawn, finishing the destruction of Castro's air force that had begun with the first strike two days before.

The men in the B-26s had not yet learned of Richard Bissell's message from Washington, canceling the air strike on orders from the President. But when 1:40 A.M. came and went with no clearance to take off, they realized something had gone wrong.

At 1:55 A.M. the Cuban pilots were told their mission had been canceled on orders from Washington. They were not to proceed with the strike against the bases. Instead, they were to fly to the beaches to try to provide air cover for the landing.

Aboard the Houston, Mario Abril noticed the ship had come almost to a complete stop.

"They started using the winches to put the boats in the water, with a lot of noise, so much noise that they started shooting from the coast, just a few machine guns. We saw the tracers coming over. My squad was one of the first to get there, Company E. We got in a boat and ran for the coast. It was a wood boat, like you might use for water skiing, with an Evinrude outboard motor, with gray paint, the motor I mean. It stopped in the middle of the Bay of Pigs when we were two miles away from shore, so we had to start it up again and they were shooting. We were told not to shoot back because they would see our positions. So we got there, and we had a wreck against the rocks on the beach.*1 We didn't land at the right place. And then we met the other squads who were around. We got together and start thinking what to do. On both sides we had swamps, water and very marshy. We started walking on the road ..."

Hundreds of miles away, on tiny Swan Island off Honduras, the CIA's Radio Swan had begun broadcasting mysterious messages to the underground several hours before:

"Alert, alert -- look well at the rainbow. The fish will rise very soon ... the sky is blue ... the fish is red. Look well at the rainbow."

Now Radio Swan confidently broadcast the text of "Bulletin No.1."

At Happy Valley the disappointed B-26 pilots climbed down from their cockpits. New briefings were held in the wooden operations building. New plans had to be drawn up on the spot because of the changed nature of the mission.

It took a B-26 two hours and fifty minutes to fly from Happy Valley to the Bay of Pigs. The bombers had enough fuel to stay over the beaches for two hours if need be and still make it back to base. So it was decided that the bombers would fly over the beaches in pairs, every half-hour. A total of eleven B-26s were sent over the beaches in relays. The first of them took off before daylight.

As exile Brigade 2506 was moving ashore, Castro received word of the invasion. He ordered his T-33 jets and Sea Furies to take off before dawn for the Bay of Pigs.

At 4:00 A.M., as General Cabel was pleading with Secretary Rusk at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, Mario Abril's E Company made contact with the enemy.

At 4:00 A.M. we met the first company of those guys, the Castro militia. They were attacking, shouting dirty words and shooting. We lay down and wait for them. We started shouting at each other across the marshes. We gave them the word: 'Surrender.' They said they were going to fight us. They shouted 'Patria O Muerte!' and then we started shooting."

The CIA's Radio Swan transmitter crackled again at 5:15 A.M.:

"Forces loyal to the Revolutionary Council have carried out a general uprising on a large scale on the island of Cuba ... the militia in which Castro placed his confidence appears to be possessed by a state of panic ... An army of liberation is in the island of Cuba to fight with you against the Communist tyranny of the unbalanced Fidel Castro ... attack the Fidelista wherever he may be found. Listen for instructions on the radio, comply with them and communicate your actions by radio.

"To victory, Cubans!"

On the Houston, the prow machine-gunner Manuel Perez Salvador had his hands full. Units of the second battalion were still unloading. Perez Salvador, a former catcher for the Fort Lauderdale Braves, a Class C team in the Florida International League, could hardly believe he had been in Miami only twelve days before. He had been recruited for the invasion at the last moment and flown to Happy Valley on April 5 with forty-seven others. He was literally turned into a soldier overnight.


After one day's training as a machine-gunner, Perez Salvador was assigned to the Houston. Now, at 5:30 A.M., he peered through his gun sights and saw the first T-33s and Sea Furies begin a series of attacks on the ship. In the next five hours Perez Salvador fired 5,000 bullets.

Sergio Garcia had taken off from Happy Valley at 1:16 A.M. at the controls of a C-46 transport loaded with paratroopers. Their target was the strategic Y-shaped crossroads at San Blas, inland behind Giron Beach. His co-pilot was Fausto Gomez. At 6:14 A.M. Garcia began the drop of men and equipment at San Blas. When all the cargo and all but the last paratrooper had been dropped, the cable running the length of the plane snapped.


It broke the leg of a parachute drop officer, jammed the tail controls of the plane and left one young paratrooper dangling helplessly from the plane at the end of the cable. Gomez went back to try to help. He and another man managed to pull the paratrooper in and discovered he was only a young boy. A few minutes later the youth, crying, came to the cockpit to plead with Garcia:

"Please turn back and drop me. It's the invasion!"

"I can't," Garcia shouted over the noise of the engines. "Your main chute is broken. I can't drop you on a reserve chute. It's against orders."

An hour later, as they were winging back to Happy Valley, Gomez cut open the boy's boot and saw that his leg had been badly gashed when the cable snapped. He was bleeding profusely.

In New York the CIA phoned Jones with Bulletin No. 2*2:

The Cuban Revolutionary Council announces a successful landing ... Because Cuban Revolutionary Council members are now totally occupied with the dramatic events unfolding in Cuba, their views will be made known to the press solely through the Cuban Revolutionary Council's spokesman, Dr. Antonio Silio.

The Council may have been totally occupied, but it was not totally free. Held in their barracks house at Opa-locka, the Cuban leaders were chafing. They were told they had been brought there so they could be flown to the beachhead as soon as it was secured. The United States would then recognize them as the legitimate government of Cuba.*3

The Council leaders donned their khaki uniforms, in readiness. They were allowed to take walks along the hard-surface road in front of the house. But when Carlos Hevia, who was to be the foreign affairs minister of a free Cuba, went to take a stroll, a CIA man warned him not to go very far. The area was rough and wild, the CIA man insisted, and the surrounding shrubbery was full of rattlesnakes.

Mario and the men of E Company had pushed back the militiamen and seized a T-shaped crossroads near Playa Larga.

"At 6:00 A.M. in the morning we saw the first plane. It had blue stripes on it. The sun wasn't out yet. At first 1 didn't see the stripes, and I was wondering, Is it going to shoot at us or not? It was ours. At that time we heard a real big noise and saw a couple of lights. It was a truck coming up the road with militia. We shouted the password 'aguila' and the other one answers 'negra.' *4 But we didn't get any answer. We shouted 'aguila' again but we got no answer. The truck was coming closer, so everybody turned their weapons and started shooting and that thing exploded just like that, Pow! It jumped in the air and came down in flames. Then we saw there were three women and two girls, little ones, that's all, in the truck, and a couple of militiamen. I don't know how that happens but that's what we got out of it, three women and two girls, killed."

By dawn Castro's air force was taking a heavy toll of the invasion fleet. About 9:00 A.M., following a direct hit from the air, the Houston began to sink. Captain Luis Morse managed to edge the transport onto a reef a mile and a half from shore to keep it from going under completely. Along with most of the 120 men of the fifth battalion, Perez Salvador had to swim to the beach. The one-time professional baseball player stripped to his shorts, kicked off his shoes and jumped into the Bay of Pigs.

At 9:15 A.M. in San Juan, Puerto Rico, CIA Director Allen Dulles mounted the speaker's rostrum in the La Concha Hotel to the applause of the thousand members of the Young Presidents Organization. He launched into the keynote speech of the convention. For his topic this morning Dulles had chosen "The Communist Businessman Abroad."

Joaquin Varela, a slight, twenty-eight-year-old former Cuban Air Force pilot, led the relays of B-26s over the beaches. With Castro's air force still in action, the bombers were flying straight to disaster. Eight exile pilots died that April morning.

Jose Crespo and Lorenzo Perez, the two fliers who had landed in Key West on Saturday (and who had supposedly gone into asylum), flew over the Bay of Pigs this April 17 under the code name "Puma I." They were just leaving the beach, after firing all their rockets, when their bomber was hit in one engine by a Castro fighter. Crespo feathered the engine, radioed Happy Valley and began limping home at low altitude.

Chirrino Piedra, the twenty-five-year-old pilot so well liked by his comrades, was also turning from the beach when his B-26 was hit in the tail. The plane exploded instantly, killing Piedra and his co- pilot, Jose A. Fernandez.

Matias Farias, only twenty-two, tried to make a forced landing at the little airstrip now in exile hands at Giron Beach. The piles of gravel that had alarmed the CIA when spotted by the U-2 on Sunday had been cleared away. But Farias, coming in for a landing, flipped over and his B-26 lost its tail. Eddy Gonzalez, his co-pilot, was killed. Farias, slightly wounded, survived and was flown out in a C-46 two days later.

Crispin L. Garcia, a short, dark-haired pilot, fought over the beaches but ran short of fuel. He landed at Key West, refueled and took off for Happy Valley with his co-pilot, Juan M. Gonzalez Romero. He nearly made it. About a year later, during a search for a missing P-51, Crispin Garcia's mangled B-26 was found on a hillside eighty miles northwest of Happy Valley.

Antonio Soto, a small (five-foot-four) chestnut haired ex-Cuban military pilot flew as "Paloma II" and was hit in one engine. He became the second exile pilot to land at Grand Cayman Island. He and his co-pilot, Benito R. "Campesino" Gonzalez, were flown back to Puerto Cabezas, but their plane remained behind on British territory.

Still the B-26s kept coming. Demetrio Perez, riding the co-pilot seat of one of the bombers, looked at his watch as he crossed the south coast of Cuba en route to the Bay of Pigs. The twenty-five- year-old co-pilot noticed it was 11:56 A.M. He and the pilot, thirty-four-year-old Raul Vianello, were only two minutes behind schedule.

But Perez was worried. The two fliers had been plagued by bad luck since Saturday, when one engine of their bomber burst into flames as they were taking off for the first strike against Castro's bases. They were sidelined. Now, on April 17, they made it off the ground, but ever since take-off they had noticed a persistent smell of gasoline in the cabin.

Remembering their previous embarrassment, the two did not want to return to Happy Valley to face their friends. They decided to keep going. They radioed Soto to come closer for a look, but when he did, he was unable to spot the trouble.

Perez and Vianello met Varela as the squadron leader was returning from the beaches. They radioed him that they had fuel trouble but were going on. As they reached the beach, another pilot warned that a "T-bird" (T-33) was loose in the area. A moment later the Castro jet was diving at them. A burst of machine-gun bullets just missed the B-26.

The bomber turned inland, flew low over the swamps and blew up a Castro machine-gun nest that commanded a highway to the beach. Then the two fliers spotted a large convoy about to enter the sugar-mill town of Australia. They were uncertain whether or not it was a Castro convoy. By the time the bomber received radio confirmation that it was, the convoy was in the town. Rather than shoot at civilians, the fliers waited until the convoy emerged on the other side. As it came out, Perez saw a white ambulance with a red cross on its roof, followed by a jeep, a truck and a tank.

As they swooped low over the convoy for a better look, they were amazed to see Castro's militia waving their caps and guns at the plane in greeting. Then they realized the militiamen had not noticed the blue stripes under the wings, the only distinguishing marks between the exile bombers and Castro's B-26s.

Some of the militiamen were still waving when the bomber made a second pass, this time with its .50-caliber machine guns blazing. The B-26 also fired two rockets at the convoy. The ambulance blew up. Perez later claimed the attack was justified because the ambulance had armed militiamen in and around it.

At 2:15 P.M., its ammunition gone and fuel running low, the bomber turned for home. Just as Vianello attempted to climb into a bank of clouds for cover, a T-33 caught the bomber with a storm of bullets. The left engine was knocked out and smoke poured into the cockpit.

"Mayday! Mayday!" Perez radioed. Below, the two aviators spotted a destroyer. Assuming it was either American or British, Vianello flew near it. "Bailout!" he ordered the younger man.

Then, before Perez jumped, Vianello, who had a wife and three children, reached over and shook hands. He pointed to the water. "We'll meet down there," he said. "Good luck!"

Perez jumped. As he plummeted through the air he was unable, at first, to find the D-ring on his chute. Finally he did, and yanked with all his strength. The parachute billowed open, and the orange and white silk overhead was a beautiful sight to Perez. He looked up in time to see the bomber burst into flames and nose-dive into the ocean. He never saw Vianello jump.

Perez hit the water, inflated his Mae West and waited to be picked up. Forty-five minutes later, although it seemed hours, he found himself aboard the U.S.S. Murray, an American destroyer.*5

Some of the B-26s did make it back to Happy Valley. Mario Zuniga, who had returned secretly from Miami the previous day, flew support over the beaches with Oscar Vega Vera, his co-pilot. They returned safely, as did the B-26s flown by Gonzalo Herrera, Varela, Mario Alvarez Cortina and Rene Garcia.

Crespo, with one propeller feathered and no compass, maintained radio contact as Happy Valley tried to guide him home. Crespo was also in contact with a C-54 pilot who attempted to persuade him to land at Grand Cayman Island. But Crespo did not change course. He radioed a final message to Happy Valley: "Trying to trade air speed for altitude for bailout, only ten minutes fuel left, no ground in sight." He was never seen again.

Eleven B-26s had flown from Happy Valley on this Monday, April 17. They were never told why their mission had been changed at the last moment from an air strike against Castro's bases to air support over the beaches. They obeyed their orders. Eight men died. Six planes were lost. Five planes returned to Happy Valley. Their valiant efforts at such a high cost had not really been very effective over the beaches. "The Monday air cover;" as one CIA official later conceded, "was murderous."

With the Houston out of action, the men of the second battalion were critically short of the ammunition and supplies the ship carried. In the Zapata swamps Mario Abril, with no food and little ammunition, skirmished with the enemy on Monday afternoon.

"There were only a few militiamen. I got my first one in there. He was in a tree. They were only ten or fifteen guys, but they were giving us a hard time because they didn't shoot all the time. They just shoot and keep quiet, shoot and keep quiet. And so this guy in a tree, I shot him down, he kept hanging from there. He was tied up to it and swinging. He just kept swinging."

In the United Nations in New York, Raul Roa was furious. He accused the United States of financing and backing the invasion. Grim-faced and chain-smoking, he charged that the CIA had poured $500,000 a month into the invasion preparations. He said a principal base was the Opa- locka airport. And he said the chief CIA agent in Miami was "Bender." On Monday afternoon, for the second time in forty-eight hours, Adlai Stevenson rose and denied the Cuban's allegations.

Stevenson had not left New York over the weekend and he did not see Kennedy. However, the President had dispatched McGeorge Bundy to New York to coordinate with Stevenson. Bundy, following developments on the AP ticker, had hastily briefed Stevenson that morning in the office of the United States mission to the UN. Then he accompanied Stevenson over to the UN, donned his hat and coat and flew back to the White House.

It was a day for denials.

They had begun in Washington, when Joseph W. Reap, a State Department spokesman, declared: "The State Department is unaware of any invasion." The Pentagon said it knew nothing about any invasion, either. The White House was equally uncommunicative. "All we know about Cuba," the Associated Press quoted Pierre Salinger as saying, "is what we read on the wire services."

The strongest assurances came from Secretary of State Rusk, who said of the Cuban situation:

"There is not and will not be any intervention there by U.S. forces. The President has made this clear, as well as our determination to do all we possibly can to insure that Americans do not participate in these actions in Cuba.

"We do not have full information on what is happening on that island.

"The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future. The answer to that question is no. What happens in Cuba is for the Cuban people themselves to decide."

On the other side of the globe, at his Black Sea villa near Sochi, Nikita S. Khrushchev conferred with his impassive Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko. They drafted a note threatening to come to Castro's aid unless Kennedy halted the invasion.

In the Roman era,persecuted Christians would draw a fish to indicate a clandestine meeting was to be held. The CIA had selected this as a symbol for the invasion. (Hence the business about fish rising, which Radio Swan had broadcast Sunday night.) In New York, late on Monday, the CIA dictated Bulletin No. 3 to Lem Jones. It contained a reference to a fish standing. When Jones showed it to Silio, the exile official was worried.


To Cubans, a phrase about fish rising or standing could have an earthy and much more graphic meaning. Jones argued with Silio, and finally, at 7:15 P.M., the bulletin was issued unchanged, despite the Cuban's apprehensions:

The principal battle of the Cuban revolt against Castro will be fought in the next few hours. Action today was largely of a supply and support effort ...

Our partisans in every town and village in Cuba will receive, in a manner known only to them, the message which will spark a tremendous wave of internal conflict against the tyrant ... before dawn the island of Cuba will rise up en masse in a coordinated wave of sabotage and rebellion which will sweep Communism from our country ... our clandestine radio has been giving instructions to the insurgents throughout the island. In a coded message on this radio yesterday, a statement was made that "the fish will soon stand."

As is well known, the fish is the Christian symbol of the resistance. When the fish is placed in a vertical position it is a sign that internal revolt is in full swing. The fish will stand tonight!

By this hour on Monday night, Dulles was hurrying home from Puerto Rico. In Washington, the full disastrous effect of the cancellation of the second air strike was being felt. It was realized that the invasion was slipping away fast. The exiles had, in the two days since April 15, lost ten of their original force of sixteen B-26s. Ten pilots had been killed in a little over forty-eight hours: Daniel Fernandez Mon, Gaston Perez, Jose A. Crespo, Lorenzo Perez, Chirrino Piedra, Jose A. Fernandez, Crispin L. Garcia, Juan M. Gonzalez Romero, Eddy Gonzalez and Raul Vianello.

Under the circumstances, Washington permitted a second air strike against Castro's bases to be reinstated. But attrition and exhaustion had overtaken the Cuban pilots. And the weather had turned bad. The whole point of that strike had been to catch Castro's air force on the ground before dawn. Now it would take place -- eighteen hours late.

Exactly three B-26s took off from Happy Valley at 8:00 P.M. Monday, April 17. Their target was the San Antonio de los Banos airfield. The strike was led by Joaquin Varela, despite the fact that he and his co-pilot, Tomas Afont, had flown that morning. Varela was unable to find San Antonio in the dark. Under orders to hit only military targets, he dropped no bombs and returned to Happy Valley. The second plane, piloted by Ignacio Rojas and Esteban Bovo Caras, developed engine trouble and turned back before reaching the target. So did the third plane, piloted by Miguel A. Carro and Eduardo Barea Guinea.

Two hours later, at 10:00 P.M., two more B-26s took off from Happy Valley. Their crews also had flown earlier that day. Gonzalo Herrera and Angel Lopez were in one bomber. Mario Alvarez Cortina and Salvador Miralles were in the other. They had no more success than the first three planes. Five B-26s had gone out Monday night. All returned, but they inflicted no damage on their targets. The score for the belated second air strike: Zero.

The start of Tuesday, April 18, found the exile brigade strung out along three separate beachheads on Cuba's southern shore. To the east of the Bay of Pigs, the exiles held Giron Beach and had moved inland behind it. At the north end of the wide Bay of Pigs itself, Mario Abril and the entire second battalion of 175 men was positioned in a crater astride a T-shaped crossroads near Playa Larga. The hole had been dug for a traffic circle under construction there.


The battalion was alone, because the men of the fifth battalion, swimming ashore from the Houston, had been carried by the current to a point about twelve miles farther south of Playa Larga. As a result, the second and fifth battalions never joined up as planned. Shells were bursting all around the crater. The noise was deafening.

"They were shooting at us with mortars and artillery from far away, for three hours. Then at about 12:3O, maybe 1:00 A.M., it stopped. It was quiet. And then we start hearing the tanks coming up. I heard 'clank, clank, clank, clank,' real far away. They were coming closer. Our tanks moved into position on both sides of the road. The first Castro tank showed up with its lights on and the hatch closed. One of our tanks shot him and stopped him right in the middle of the road. But they cleared it away. All night long the tanks kept coming. They sent eight, but only one got through to the beach. Then this Stalin tank, real heavy, came up the road. Our tank had no ammunition, so it started pushing him on the side and threw him out of the road. The guys came out of the tank with their hands up and that was real great. We took them prisoners. It was real busy then. It was a real busy night."

At 3:44 A.M., as the second battalion stood off Castro's tanks, Radio Swan broadcast an appeal to the Cuban Army and militia to revolt:

"Now is the precise moment for you to take up strategic positions that control roads and railroads! Make prisoners of or shoot those who refuse to obey your orders! Comrades of the Navy, this is your opportunity to prove your sincerity ... Take over and secure your post in the Navy of Free Cuba. Comrades of the Air Force! Listen closely! All planes must stay on the ground. See that no Fidelist plane takes off. Destroy its radios; destroy its tail; break its instruments; and puncture its fuel tanks! Refuse to give service! Inform your friends that freedom and honor await those who join us, as death will overtake the traitors who do not!"

Three hours later, that was followed up with a broadcast urging internal sabotage:

"People of Havana; attention, people of Havana. Help the brave soldiers of the liberation army ... electrical plants must not supply power today to the few industries that the regime is trying to keep in operation. Today at 7:45 A.M., when we give the signal on this station, all the lights in your house should be turned on; all electrical appliances should be connected. Increase the load on the generators of the electric company! ... But do not worry, people of Havana, the liberation forces will recover the electrical plants and they can be placed in operation rapidly."

But at Playa Larga, the liberation forces were in trouble. Mario and the second battalion got the bad news; they would have to retreat.

"At 11 A.M. we got the orders to move to Giron Beach to join up with the other battalions. I ask myself, Why? I think we won that battle during the night against tanks with no ammunition, no support, no fifth battalion, which was in another place. So I got on a truck and I was riding to Giron Beach, twenty miles away down the line of the coast. We got there at 12:30, maybe 1:00 P.M. There we got rest and I got a couple of crackers and a bottle of water. We were in a new house Castro built for the workers. In the meantime, Castro's planes were coming and bombing and shooting. We were so tired, it didn't make any difference to us."

The exile air force was still in action, despite the long odds against it A thunderstorm swelled the little river behind the airstrip at Happy Valley on Tuesday afternoon, and sent the scorpions and snakes near the operations building scuttling for cover. Despite the storm, six B-26s took off at 2:00 P.M. Their target was a large Castro armored column moving toward the shrinking beachhead at Giron.

Mario Zuniga flew in one of the bombers, with the chief of the exile air operations, Manuel Villafana, as his co pilot. Luis Cosme, Villafana's deputy, took over as the operations officer at Happy Valley.

Rene Garcia, Antonio Soto and Gustavo Ponzoa flew three of the B-26s in the strike force. Despite the presidential pledge that no Americans would participate in the fighting, the other two bombers were flown by American CIA pilots. One was the instructor who used the name "Seig Simpson" and who had told the Cubans he was a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Korean War. His co-pilot was Gustavo Villoldo, a Cuban. Alberto Perez Sordo, a twenty-two-year-old exile, flew as co-pilot with the other American.

It took the six bombers only twenty-five minutes to destroy the Castro convoy on the road to the beach.*6 All six bombers and crews returned safely to Puerto Cabezas.

The same day, April 18, the exile air force received four P-51 Mustangs from the Nicaraguan Government. The trouble was, the Cuban pilots had not been trained to fly them. The Mustangs went unused.

At 1:20 P.M. on Tuesday in New York, Lem Jones issued Bulletin No. 4 of the Cuban Revolutionary Council. For the first time it took a more pessimistic tone:

Cuban freedom fighters in the Matanzas area are being attacked by heavy Soviet tanks and Mig aircraft *7 which have destroyed sizable amounts of medical supplies and equipment.

Meanwhile, the note Khrushchev had drafted at Sochi the day before was transmitted to Washington. The Soviet Premier charged the United States had armed and trained the exiles. He threatened to give Castro "all necessary assistance" unless Washington stopped the invasion. At 7:00 P.M. Soviet Ambassador Mikhail A. Menshikov was handed a note by Rusk at the State Department. In it President Kennedy warned Khrushchev to stay out of the fight. In the event of outside intervention, Kennedy declared, the United States would "immediately" honor its treaty obligations to the hemisphere.

In the UN, Soviet Ambassador Zorin mocked Stevenson's continued denials of United States responsibility for the invaders. "Have these people come from outer space?" asked Zorin.

A few moments earlier Carlos Alejos, Roberto's brother, rose in the UN and said he had just returned from a trip to Guatemala, and wished to state, in answer to Cuba's charges, that the forces which had landed in Cuba had not been trained in Guatemala and had not come from Guatemalan territory. Guatemala, Alejos solemnly assured the UN, had never allowed and would never allow its territory to be used for the organization of acts of aggression against its sister American republics.

At the White House, that Tuesday night, more than a thousand guests had gathered for the President's traditional reception for members of Congress and their wives. Champagne and punch flowed. At exactly 10:15 P.M. the President and Jacqueline Kennedy descended the main stairs. Mrs. Kennedy wore a lovely sleeveless floor-length sheath of pink and white straw lace, with matching pink slippers. A feather-shaped diamond clip glittered in her bouffant hairdo. The Marine Band struck up "Mr. Wonderful."


The Kennedys led the first dance. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, wearing her salmon-pink inaugural gown, joined in. Midway through the first number the Kennedys and the Johnsons switched partners. For the buffet dinner the guests had chicken a la king and pheasant. The President mixed with his guests, smiling and apparently carefree. But at 11:45 P.M. guests noticed he had slipped away.

Still in his formal dress, the President met at midnight at the White House with his highest military and civilian advisers. The Joint Chiefs and top officials of the CIA were present. The invasion was now near collapse. At the meeting Richard Bissell maintained that the operation could still be saved if the President would authorize the use of Navy jets from a carrier then stationed offshore between Jamaica and Cuba.

But the President had repeatedly stated, both privately and publicly (at his April 12 press conference), that no United States armed forces would be used in Cuba. He was reluctant to change his position now.

Bissell, who had been so deeply engaged in the Cuban operation for more than a year, argued desperately in favor of U.S. airpower to save it now. So did Admiral Burke, who made a series of proposals. Like Bissell he asked that Navy jets be sent over the beaches.

Burke also suggested several alternatives: that a company of Marines be landed; that a destroyer be allowed to give gunfire support to the invaders; that Navy jets be allowed to fly just outside the three-mile limit. General Lemnitzer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, supported Burke's plea for Navy jets over the beaches, as did General White, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The President declined to accept these various proposals. Then Burke suggested that Navy planes be allowed to fly over the beaches, but that there be no U.S. markings on the planes. As the group talked, the clock ticked past midnight and into Wednesday, April 19. Finally the discussion resulted in a compromise:

The President authorized the unmarked Navy jets from the carrier Essex to fly over the Bay of Pigs for one hour just after dawn. Their mission was to be restricted. They were to support an air-to-ground strike that morning by the B-26s from Happy Valley. The Navy jets were to fly "dead cover," which meant they were to interpose themselves between the bombers and any enemy aircraft. In this way they were to try to protect the B-26s against attack by Castro planes. The Navy jets were not to strafe or to initiate any firing. Under the President's authorization, however, they could fire back if fired upon.

There was a subtle and unspoken aspect to this. If the Castro planes fired, the Navy jets would not be able to make the fine distinction of whether the attackers were firing at the bombers or at them. By interposing themselves between the B-26s and Castro's planes, in other words, they would draw fire and be able to fire back.

Burke wrote out the order on a pad. It was telephoned to the Joint Chiefs communication center at the Pentagon, sent immediately to CINCLANT, in Norfolk, Virginia, relayed from there to the Commander, Second Fleet, and thence to the carrier. The markings on the Navy jets were to be painted over.

It was 1:00 A.M. Wednesday when the meeting broke up at the White House.

At Happy Valley a 1:00 A.M. meeting was also in progress, in the building that served as the air operations center. Among those present were General Doster, Riley W. Shamburger, Jr., a CIA pilot who was a close friend of Doster's and on leave as a major in the Alabama Air National Guard, and Luis Cosme, the Cuban operations deputy.

All realized that the situation was grim and that something had to be done. The Cuban pilots were exhausted; ten were dead. The American advisers agreed to fly night missions starting that night, to relieve the weary Cubans. The Americans were not ordered to do so; they volunteered, although it was understood when they signed up with the CIA that they might at some point have to fly combat missions.

Now the pledge that no U.S. armed forces and no Americans would be involved was doubly violated, since American CIA pilots were flying in the invasion and Navy jets were to screen them against attack.

Five B-26s took off during the night. Shamburger and a fellow American, Wade Carroll Gray, flew in one B-26. Two more Americans, Thomas Willard Ray and Leo Francis Baker, flew in another. Three other Americans flew. One was a tall, skinny pilot known simply as "Joe," whose co-pilot was also an American. The other was the pilot known as "Seig Simpson." The fifth B-26 was piloted by a Cuban, Gonzalo Herrera.

Three more Cubans, including Zuniga, were scheduled to fly, but operations were halted before they took off.


Bissell left the White House meeting with the understanding that the Navy jets would appear over the beaches at dawn simultaneously with the B-26s. What happened next has since become clouded in a welter of conflicting interpretations.

Bissell, of course, did not have the responsibility of ordering the Navy jets into the air, but he did have the task of notifying the exile air force. From his secret office he relayed the news that United States air cover would be available for one hour at dawn to support the air-to-ground strike by the CIA B-26s. Bissell did not write the order out himself. He repeated it verbally to the colonel on duty at the CIA office, who in turn transmitted it to Happy Valley.

Bissell's message reached Happy Valley shortly before Shamburger, Gray, Ray and Baker took off. These four Americans, therefore, took off for the Bay of Pigs with the understanding that they would have protection from U.S. Navy jets. They did not.

Somewhere along the line there was a fatal mix-up between the CIA and the Navy. At first the CIA thought that the President's order had reached the carrier so conservatively worded that the jets had been unable to take hostile action against Castro's planes because the jets had not been fired upon. Later the CIA realized the error was one of timing. In the secret post-mortem over the Bay of Pigs, it was officially concluded that the bombers had arrived after the jets had already come and gone, after the clock had run out on the one hour of air support.

How this happened may never be entirely unscrambled (there has been no public explanation), but the evidence pointed directly to the incredible conclusion that the mix-up had occurred because of confusion over time zones. The Bay of Pigs and Washington were both on Eastern Standard Time, but Nicaragua time was an hour earlier. Which means a plane that left Happy Valley, Nicaragua, at 3:30 A.M. local time would have arrived over the Bay of Pigs at 6: 30 A.M. Nicaragua time, or just after dawn. But because of the difference in time zones, it was 7: 30 A.M. at the Bay of Pigs -- an hour too late.

The CIA and the Navy did not co-ordinate their respective orders to the fleet and to Happy Valley. Burke simply sent his order to the fleet and Bissell sent an order to Happy Valley. Neither official saw the order the other had transmitted.

The confusion over time zones may have been compounded by the fact that the Navy always transmits messages in Greenwich Mean Time, but the CIA sometimes uses Standard Time, sometimes GMT.

In any event, the Navy pilots reported they never made contact with CIA bombers. They said they saw no bombers and no Castro planes. After the hour had elapsed, they returned to the carrier.

On this morning of April 19 four Americans lost their lives. Riley Shamburger and Wade Gray were shot down and crashed at sea. Ray and Baker were shot down and apparently crashed inland. "Joe," the tall American, never reached the beaches. He heard the cries for help of the four American fliers as they were shot down, and he turned back. Gonzalo Herrera, his plane shot full of holes, also made it back.

At Happy Valley at 8:30 A.M. "Gar," the chief CIA air adviser, asked the Cubans for volunteers to go in again over the beaches. The pilots were called together by Luis Cosme, the Cuban operations deputy. They were willing, but since another trip over the beaches meant almost certain death, they understandably demanded to know why they were being sent out.

"We must hold twenty-four hours more," the CIA chief said. "Don't play the bells loud, but something is going to happen."

It was the sort of vague promise that the Cubans, by this time, were fed up with. Now they rebelled. Cosme addressed the assembled pilots.

"I think we've had enough losses," he told them. "I believe this operation is a failure. I don't see any reason to continue the flights. Either they appoint another operations officer or no airplane takes off from Happy Valley with Cubans aboard."

It was 9:45 A.M. The air operations at Happy Valley were over. In four days of combat the exile air force had flown more than thirty-six missions, against overwhelming odds. It had fought an air battle against faster, more maneuverable planes, jets and conventional fighters that were supposed to have been destroyed on the ground.*8 Its men were weary from lack of rest and sleep.

It had suffered fifty-percent losses -- twelve of its twenty-four B-26s were gone. Fourteen pilots had died -- ten Cubans and four Americans.

This final day of the invasion found Mario Abril with his battalion west of Giron Beach fighting against the militia as the perimeter was gradually pushed back.

"We stayed there until 1:00 P.M. At that time Erneido Oliva, the battalion commander, he told us everything was real bad and we were doing pretty bad, no support at all from the Americans. We could see the ships and they don't send nothing. He told us to try to run to the hills. He told us he was going that way, to resist until we can do something. So we started walking that way. At Giron Beach 1 got water, and with a couple of friends of mine, 1 started running for the woods. That was 3:30, maybe 4:00 P.M. *9 I was in real bad condition. 1 started walking toward Cienfuegos. 1 got friends there and I believed if I could get there 1 would be saved."

The invasion was over. By 5:30 P.M. Castro's forces were engaged in mopping-up operations at the Bay of Pigs. At the same hour the indignant members of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, free at last from their Opa-locka confinement, were meeting secretly with Kennedy at the White House. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the Harvard historian and assistant to the President, and Adolf Berle had flown to Miami during the night to placate the Cuban leaders, after which the Council was flown to Washington for a meeting that was both emotional and difficult. This meeting was not disclosed by the White House until the next day.

In New York, Lem Jones issued two more bulletins for the CIA. The last one regretted that:

... the recent landings in Cuba have been constantly though inaccurately described as an invasion. It was, in fact, a landing mainly of supplies and support for our patriots who have been fighting in Cuba for months ... Regretfully we admit tragic losses in today's action among a small holding force which courageously fought Soviet tanks and artillery while being attacked by Russian Mig aircraft -- a gallantry which allowed the major portion of our landing party to reach the Escambray mountains.

We did not expect to topple Castro immediately or without setbacks. And it is certainly true that we did not expect to face, unscathed, Soviet armaments directed by Communist advisers. We did and survived!

The struggle for the freedom of six million Cubans continues!

Mario Abril, together with hundreds of his fellows, was captured the next day. He spent the next year and a half in prison in Havana. He returned to the United States with the rest of the brigade in the prisoner exchange of Christmas, 1962.

Manuel Perez Salvador, of the Fort Lauderdale Braves, lived for ten days on land crabs and muddy water after he had swum ashore from the Houston. Giant flies bit his legs, which became infected and swollen. He still bears round black scars the size and shape of kitchen-faucet washers. He and a companion had just found a tin of Russian canned meat on the beach and were trying to open it when a militia speedboat rounded the bend with a machine gun trained on them. They surrendered. That was how it went for the majority of the brigade.

A few managed to escape in small boats and were later picked up at sea by American Navy and merchant ships. A very few managed to escape through the Cuban underground. Most were captured.

The exile air force fought no more. Its task was over. And yet not quite. Sergio Garcia, the pilot who had refused to drop the wounded young paratrooper over San Blas, was assigned to a final mission.

On the morning of April 20 he flew far out to sea from Happy Valley, carrying thousands of leaflets that had been printed by the CIA. They were packed in special boxes designed to open after leaving the plane. The leaflets were meant to have been dropped over Cuba ahead of the advancing and victorious invaders. They bore such slogans as "Cubans, you will be free!"

Hundreds of miles off the Nicaraguan coast, out of sight of land, Garcia banked and began the last air drop of the Bay of Pigs. The boxes tumbled from the plane, and opened as they were caught by the wind. Garcia watched as the leaflets fluttered into the sea.

CIA hydrographic experts believed the beaches were excellent at the Bay of Pigs. An unexpected reef was encountered as the ships moved in, and it slowed down the landing operation.

*2 Although Jones and the Council later came in for some criticism for issuing press releases from a Madison Avenue office, the truth is that he did not write any of them. Each of the six bulletins was dictated directly to Jones by the CIA.

*3 Castro had realized the danger of this. On June 16, 1961, during a cigar-waving tour of the battlefield for British and American newsmen, he said that because the exiles held forty-three miles of coast at one point "it became an urgent political problem for us to oust them as quickly as possible so that they would not establish a government there."

*4 The two words together mean black eagle.

*5 It was the start of a weird adventure for Perez, who followed orders and stuck to his cover story that he was a defecting Castro pilot. On April 19 he was flown by helicopter to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Randolph and given an air-conditioned stateroom. From there he was flown to Guantanamo, smuggled across the bay in a launch to the main Navy base and armed by Navy Intelligence, whom he exasperated by repeating his CIA cover story. Only after the Navy threatened to send Perez "back" to Havana, did he tell the truth. He was whisked to Washington by jet for further interrogation by the Navy and, finally, by the CIA. He met General Maxwell D. Taylor, the President's military representative, and even made it to the White House. All the while Perez was being kept in a luxurious Alexandria, Virginia, motel. Finally, he was given new clothes and a plane ticket. Still wearing the parachute boots in which he had jumped, Perez returned to Miami.

*6 During his June 16 tour of the battlefield, Castro admitted to newsmen that his forces had made the error of advancing on the open road that cuts through marshes, and as a result were an easy target for the exile air force.

*7 Castro had no Migs in the air during the invasion. This probably refers to the T-33 jet trainers.

*8 The exile pilots received no training in defensive tactics, for example, because it was not anticipated that Castro would be left with any planes.

*9 Several members of the brigade later claimed they saw U.S. jets flying high over the beaches about this hour. This would have been long after the one hour of air cover at dawn ordered by the President, however.

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FOUR widows whose husbands had died at the Bay of Pigs were living in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. During the long, hot summer of that year, Birmingham was a city of fear and violence. But some of the widows lived in a special atmosphere of fear that had nothing to do with the city's racial troubles.

Partly it was because of an unseen hand that sent them, every two weeks, a check for $245. There was danger that if they said too much the same invisible hand might cut the payments off. For one of the widows, Mrs. Margaret H. Ray, a soft-spoken, attractive brunette, these fears were also compounded by talk of lie-detector tests, suspicion that her telephone was being tapped, that she was under surveillance.

The imaginings of a distraught widow alone in the world with her two young children? Perhaps. And then again, perhaps not. For The Case of the Four Birmingham Widows is, in some respects, a twentieth-century tragedy. It is George Orwell and Franz Kafka come true.

The husbands of these four women were Thomas Willard Ray, Leo Francis Baker, Riley W. Shamburger, Jr., and Wade Carroll Gray, the American CIA airmen who had died on April 19, 1961, while flying in combat at the Bay of Pigs.

One key to the mystery of all that has since happened to the widows could be found in a small two-story building on a quiet palm-lined street in Miami Springs, Florida, not far to the north of Miami International Airport. It was, the sign out front proclaimed, the law office of Alex E. Carlson.

Carlson, a big, blond, heavy-set man, towering well over six feet, saw three years of combat during World War II in New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa. After the war he got his bachelor's degree in Spanish at the University of Michigan. By 1952 Carlson, then twenty-seven, was finishing law school at the University of Miami. That year he went to Chile on an exchange scholarship. He then returned to Miami and set up practice in Miami Springs. Most of his clients appeared to be obscure airline and air-cargo firms operating out of Miami International Airport.

But Carlson's most intriguing business activity was the Double-Chek Corporation. According to the records of the Florida Secretary of State at Tallahassee this firm was incorporated on May 14 1959, and "brokerage is the general nature of business engaged in."

The officers of the Double-Chek Corporation, as of 1963, were listed as "Alex E. Carlson, President, 45 Curtiss Parkway, Miami Springs" (the address of Carlson's law office); "Earl Sanders, Vice-President, same address; Margery Carlson, Secretary Treasurer, same address." The "resident agent" was listed as "Wesley R. Pillsbury," at the same address.

In 1960 the CIA, having been given the green light by President Eisenhower to organize the Cuban exiles, began looking about for American pilots to serve as PIs -- pilot instructors. Because the Cubans would be flying the CIA B-26s, the agency wanted Americans who had flown the plane in wartime.

The CIA decided to do its recruiting through Alex E. Carlson and the Double-Chek Corporation. The agency uses cover of this sort when it recruits pilots for a covert operation. To find the pilots, the CIA naturally turned to the Air National Guard in Alabama, Virginia and Arkansas, the last state units to fly the obsolescent B-26.

From these states, some two dozen pilots were signed up by the CIA, acting through Double-Chek. The majority were from Alabama, and, in turn, the bulk of these were from the Birmingham area. The unit's doctor was from Montgomery.

General Reid Doster, the congenial, bulldog-faced commanding officer of the Alabama Air National Guard, was a key man in the CIA operation at Retalhuleu. (Doster had left the CIA and was back running the Alabama Air Guard and its 117th Reconnaissance Wing as of 1963.)

Because the Alabama Air Guard was under the supervision of the 9th Tactical Air Force at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Doster went to see Major General David W. Hutchinson, the commanding general there.*1 He asked for a leave of absence for himself and about a dozen of his men in the Alabama National Guard. Hutchinson approved the leaves of absence; the men, including Doster, joined the CIA as civilians.

Each of the American pilots was sworn to secrecy by the CIA, with the exception of Doster, who gave his word as a general officer. All pledged they would never talk about what happened in the training camps or at the Bay of Pigs.

Thomas Willard Ray, age thirty when he died, was born in Birmingham on March 15, 1931. He began dating Margaret Hayden while he was still in Tarrant High School. He served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1952 and was discharged as a staff sergeant.

In December of that year "Pete" Ray joined the Hayes International Corporation, a large aircraft modification company with its main plant at the Birmingham airport. Ray was a technical inspector at Hayes, but he kept up his pilot's proficiency by flying the B-26s and F-84s at the Alabama National Guard.

He married Margaret and they had two children: Thomas, a crew-cut blond-haired boy of eight when his father died, and Janet Joy, six. Five years before the Bay of Pigs, the Rays built a handsome brick home in Center Point, a Birmingham suburb.

Ray did not particularly like flying jets, and, with several buddies, he switched to the Army Reserve. He took leave from Hayes, and for one year before he joined the CIA he was on active duty at Fort Rucker, 170 miles south of Birmingham. In January, 1961, Ray received a telephone call. He told his wife he would be leaving to go to a "combined service school."

On February 5, 1961, Mrs. Ray and the children moved into her mother's home in Birmingham. Her husband left the same day. He did not say where he was going. He told his wife she could write to him at this address:

c/o Joseph Greenland
Box 7924
Main Post Office
Chicago, Illinois

(There was no Joseph Greenland listed in the Chicago telephone book in 1960, 1961 or 1962. The box was a CIA mail drop; the CIA official who selected "Greenland" apparently was unable to resist choosing a code name suggested by the verdant tropical vegetation of the target island.)

Margaret wrote to her husband c/o Joseph Greenland, and he wrote back, with his letters bearing the return address of different Air Force bases. Pete came home only once, on April 10, for a two- day visit; he had a deep suntan. During that time he did not tell his wife what he was doing, but she had begun to piece it together from newspaper stories and her own suspicions. She gave voice to these suspicions.

"If you've learned anything," he told her, "keep your mouth shut, because they are thinking of giving lie-detector tests to the wives."

He indicated that "they" might do this in order to check on whether there had been any security leaks from the wives in Birmingham.

On April 15 Margaret was fixing a girlfriend's hair at her mother's house when her friend showed her a newspaper telling of the B-26 strike against Cuba. Margaret's hands began to tremble.

Leo Baker, thirty-four at the time of his death, was a native of Boston. A short, dark-haired, handsome man, he was thought to be Italian by many of his friends because of his appearance and the fact that he owned two pizza shops in Birmingham. Actually, he was the son of a French mother and a father who came from Newfoundland.

He entered the Air Force in 1944, served as a flight engineer and was discharged as a technical sergeant. He married, and was divorced. There was one daughter, Teresa. Baker flew in the Korean War, then, on Lincoln's Birthday, 1957, joined Hayes as a flight engineer. He also started a pizza shop in East Lake. The following year an attractive, blue-eyed brunette walked into Leo's Pizza Shop. He hired her on the spot.

Her name was Catherine Walker. Although born in Kentucky, she was raised in Birmingham and was graduated from Woodlawn High School there. They began dating and were married on August 12, 1959. In December, Baker was laid off by the Hayes Company. But he bought a second pizza shop in Homewood. Cathy managed one; Leo the other. He worked hard -- he could not abide lazy people -- and his small restaurant business prospered.

They had two children: Beth, born April 22, 1960, and Mary, who never saw her father. She was born September 26, 1961, six months after he died.

In January, 1961, Leo Baker went to Boston for his father's funeral. He told Cathy he was expecting a phone cal1 and it came while he was gone. Soon after, late in January, Baker left home. He did not tell Cathy where he was going. But he told her she could write to him c/o Joseph Greenland at the Chicago address.

His return mail came once from Washington, but usually it was postmarked Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One picture post card from that city showed a motel with a tropical-fish pool. One weekend Leo returned to Birmingham carrying a plastic bag full of tropical fish.

During this period Baker told his wife he was dropping supplies over Cuba and training pilots. Every two or three weeks he came home briefly. Two weeks before Easter he came home for the last time. He arrived on a Saturday and left on a Sunday, and that was the last time Cathy ever saw him.

"Watch the newspapers early in May," were among the parting words he spoke to her.

Cathy believed he then went to Guatemala. She later learned he had won $300 in a poker game in Central America before the invasion. When someone asked if he planned to send the money home, he had replied: "I'm taking it with me to Cuba. I might be able to buy my way out of trouble."

Cathy did not know how much money Leo was paid. But she received $500 a month while he was away.


Riley W. Shamburger, Jr., the oldest of the four fliers, was born in Birmingham on November 17, 1924. He married Marion Jane Graves, his childhood sweetheart. They had dated for twelve years before their marriage, through grammar school and Woodlawn High. After Pearl Harbor, Shamburger quit high school to join the Air Force. (When the war ended he returned and got his diploma.) A combat pilot in World War II and Korea, Shamburger was a big breezy extrovert who loved to fly.

He was a 209-pounder, six feet tall, with 15,000 hours in the air and eighteen years of flying experience by 1961. A test pilot at Hayes, he was also a major in the Alabama Air National Guard, and was its operations officer at the Birmingham airfield. He was also a good friend of General Doster. Shamburger did well; he owned a substantial home in East Lake.

The Shamburgers were part of a beer-and-barbecue, happy-go-lucky crowd of Air Guardsmen and their wives who frequently socialized together. Aside from flying, Riley liked nothing better than to sit in front of the TV set with a case of beer, eating his favorite food, "parched" (roasted) peanuts. And he liked to barbecue pork chops.

Early in 1961 Riley told his wife: "I'm going to be away at school for three months." He did not say where he was going, but about once a week he returned to Birmingham. He and Doster would fly in together.

Sometimes they would bring news of other Birmingham acquaintances -- such as Colonel Joe Shannon -- who were part of the mysterious operation. Once, when Riley returned for a visit, he told how the boys had rigged up a beer joint in Central America named after their favorite bar in Birmingham. Over the makeshift saloon a pair of red panties flew in the breeze as a cocktail flag.

Shortly before the invasion, Marion sent Riley a present -- a whole cigar box full of parched peanuts.

Wade Carroll Gray, born in Birmingham on March 1, 1928, and thirty-three when he died, had also once been employed at Hayes, as a radio and electronics technician. (But he had been laid off in 1960). He married his pretty wife, Violet, on December 14 1946. They settled down in Pinson, a suburb where Wade had lived all of his life. They had no children.

Gray left home on February 5, 1961, the same day that Pete Ray said good-bye to Margaret. He told his wife that he was going to Texas to test planes. He said the project was secret and that he could say no more.

He first returned home for a visit in early March, 1961. He, too, told his wife to write c/o Joseph Greenland. Some of the letters Violet Gray wrote were returned to her with her husband's effects after his death. Among these effects were matchbooks indicating he had been in both Guatemala and Nicaragua.

This, then, is the background of the four Americans, and of how they came to be in Happy Valley on Wednesday, April 19, 1961. On that day all four volunteered to fly B-26s over the beaches to relieve the exhausted Cuban pilots.

What happened has already been described: Shortly before they took off, the four CIA fliers were told they would receive air support from the carrier-based Navy jets. (The word had been flashed to Happy Valley by Richard Bissell after the President authorized the unmarked Navy jets to fly for one hour at dawn.) Because of the mix-up over time zones, the B-26s got to the Bay of Pigs after the Navy jets had already gone.

Exactly how the two planes were shot down is a subject of varying accounts, but most versions agree that Shamburger and Gray crashed at sea and that Ray and Baker crashed inland.*2

Some evidence that Ray and Baker did crash on Cuban soil was provided by Havana radio on the morning of April 19. At 10:30 A.M. Havana time (9:30 A.M. Nicaragua time), Radio Havana Broadcast:

We give you official government communique No. 3. The participation of the United States in the aggression against Cuba was dramatically proved this morning, when our anti-aircraft batteries brought down a U.S. military plane piloted by a U.S. airman, who was bombing the civilian population and our infantry forces in the area of the Australia Central [a sugar mill].

"The attacking U.S. pilot, whose body is in the hands of the revolutionary forces, was named Leo Francis Bell. His documents reveal his flight license number, 08323-LM, which expires 24 December 1962. His social security card is numbered 014-07-6921. His motor vehicle registration was issued to 100 Nassau Street, Boston 4, Massachusetts. The registered address of the Yankee pilot is 48 Beacon Street, Boston. His height is five feet six inches." (This was Baker's height.)

A Havana wire-service dispatch identified the pilot as Leo Francis Berliss. Another story had it as Berle.

In Oklahoma City the Federal Aviation Agency said it had no record at its headquarters there of the pilot's license as reported by Havana. The numbering system, the FAA added, "isn't like that." Reporters in Boston who checked the Beacon Street address found an apartment house. None of the residents had ever heard of Leo Francis Berliss. The State Department in Washington said it had no one by that name in either the civilian or military branch of the government.

What Castro had in his hands, of course, was Leo Baker's CIA-prepared credentials, made out with a fake last name. (CIA clandestine officers frequently have bogus papers; some possess three or four United States passports issued under different names.) Presumably, the papers were recovered from Baker's body after the bomber crashed inland.

One week later, on April 26, Margaret Ray received a visit from Thomas F. McDowell, a Birmingham lawyer, who was the law partner of Frank M. Dixon, a former governor of Alabama. McDowell was accompanied by another man. They told Mrs. Ray that it was believed her husband had been lost at sea in a C-46 transport plane. They asked her to tell no one. They indicated there was a slim chance he might still be alive.

For the next week Margaret Ray went about her normal life, going to church, to the PTA, to the supermarket. On Wednesday, May 3, she was again visited by McDowell. This time he brought with him a big blond man he introduced as an attorney from Miami. His name was Alex E. Carlson.

They repeated to Mrs. Ray the story about the C-46, but on this visit they said there was no longer any hope that her husband was alive. Carlson said he would tell the same story to the Birmingham newspapers the next day.

Carlson and McDowell visited Margaret for about thirty minutes at her mother's home. Then they left. Margaret hinted to them that she did not believe their story.

On Thursday, May 4, Carlson held a press conference in Birmingham. He announced that the four fliers were missing and presumed dead after their C-46 had left on a cargo mission from an airstrip somewhere in Central America. Carlson said he was an attorney representing the Double-Chek Corporation of Miami. He said Double-Chek had put some anti-Castro Cubans in touch with the fliers early in April. Carlson did not say whether the four had flown in the invasion.

"They were told to use the radio only in case of an emergency," said Carlson. "Then they reported one engine had gone out and they were losing altitude. That was the last they have been heard from."

He said the Double-Chek Corporation had contacted the four on behalf of an organization which requested that its identity remain confidential. "But it is presumed to be an exiled group of Cubans," said Carlson. He said that Double-Chek had hired the four at a monthly salary to fly cargo.

"These men knew what they were getting into," he added. "It was a calculated risk. If they came back, they had a nice nest egg."

To cover its role, the CIA was willing to imply that the four dead Americans were mercenaries. Their reputations were expendable.

The widows were embittered at Carlson's words.

"Riley wasn't a soldier of fortune," Mrs. Shamburger said. "He didn't do this for the money. He was a test pilot at Hayes, and was paid a good salary there. He was an operations officer for the Air National Guard. He held two jobs because he wanted us to have things. I have a maid twice a week. I wear furs. You see the things we have in the house."

Mrs. Gray told a newspaper interviewer her husband was no soldier of fortune either. She said he was paid $1,990 a month during the short period of time he was away. She said she, too, had been visited by Carlson.

"He said my husband was dead and to start life anew. He said they had spotted one of the plane's engines floating in the water. I didn't think engines floated."

"They knew what they were getting into, but I didn't," said Cathy Baker.

Three days after he returned to Miami, Carlson told the press he was sure the C-46 had been flying a support mission for the Cuban invasion. But he said the mission was not connected with the main exile organization, the Democratic Revolutionary Front.

"There are many so-called fronts and wealthy individuals, all anxious to do their part," he announced. "This was a small group."

Carlson's partner in Double-Chek, Raymond W. Cox, told Miami newsmen that the corporation originally was formed to buy a race horse. He said he knew nothing about any fliers.

Shortly after Carlson's appearance in Birmingham in May, 1961, mysterious checks began arriving for the four widows. At first the checks were issued by the Hialeah-Miami Springs Bank and were signed by Carlson. Soon afterward there was a change, and the checks began coming from the Bankers Trust Company of New York. They came every two weeks. The first fifty-two payments were $225 each. Later they were increased to $245, or a bit more than $6,000 a year for each of the widows. The checks from Bankers Trust were simply signed by an officer of the bank. They were drawn on a trust fund set up at the bank. But there was no indication of where the money came from.

However, it is quite obvious that it came from the CIA. On May 17, 1961, Carlson wrote to Cathy Baker on his law-office letterhead. He enclosed a cashier's check for $1,990 and wrote:

Double Check (sic] Corporation has decided to extend the regular monthly salary through the 4th day of June, 1961, but is regretably [sic] convinced of the finality of your husband's fate. Nevertheless, beginning June 5th, on a monthly basis, you will receive regular benefit allotments, as provided for by your husband's employment contract.

Again let me express my sincere feelings of condolance [sic] in your time of bereavement, and should you have any questions or problems, please feel free to call upon our attorneys in Birmingham for help.

Very truly yours, Alex E. Carlson,
Attorney for Double-Check [sic]

Peculiarly, Carlson seemed unsure both in this letter and in numerous public statements of whether the firm of which he was president was called Double-Check (as he wrote to Mrs. Baker) or Double-Chek, as it was incorporated in the State of Florida.

By "our attorneys in Birmingham," Carlson meant McDowell, who continued to act as a sort of self-appointed overseer of the widows' affairs. McDowell was able to obtain death certificates for the four fliers; he kept them in his safe in Room 533 of the Frank Nelson Building in downtown Birmingham. The widows were under the impression that McDowell had a background in Navy Intelligence, and believed he had something to do with the checks that they receive.

As this surrealistic chain of events unfolded, Riley Shamburger's mother began to try to do something about it. Riley's father was a retired city fireman, a semi-invalid who moved about their Birmingham home in a wheelchair. But Riley's mother, who refused to believe her son was dead, carried on an energetic correspondence with the Federal Government. She did her best to find out what had happened to her son. She even wrote to the Swiss Government, which handled affairs for the United States in Cuba after the break in diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

Mrs. Shamburger began by writing to the State Department. She received a reply, dated August 11, 1961, from Denman F. Stanfield, the acting chief of the Protection and Representation Division. It said:

Reference is made to your letter of July 9, 1961, concerning the welfare and whereabouts of your son.

If you will provide your son's full name, date and place of birth, last known address here or abroad, and any other pertinent information that would assist in locating him, the Department would be pleased to make inquiries.

A few weeks later she received a letter, dated September 14. 1961, from Major Sidney Ormerod, United States Air Force, Division of Administrative Services. This one was briskly efficient:

( 1) Your letters to the Department of State concerning your son have been referred to me for reply.

( 2) The records in this office do not contain the circumstances surrounding your son's accident. At the time he was not on active duty in his military status.

( 3) For more detailed information it is suggested you contact the Hayes Aircraft Corp.,*3 Birmingham, Alabama, since he was under their jurisdiction at the time in question.

(4) I regret that I was unable to be of assistance to you in this matter.

The letter was deceptive. Hayes Aircraft is a private corporation and has no one under its "jurisdiction." At "the time in question" Riley Shamburger was flying for the CIA. He was certainly not testing aircraft for Hayes over the Bay of Pigs.

A lesser woman might have been discouraged by this, but Mrs. Shamburger was not. The following year she wrote to John McCone. She received a letter in reply, dated July 14, 1962, on CIA stationary and signed by Marshall S. Carter, Lieutenant General, United States Army, Acting Director. It said:

In Mr. McCone's absence, I am replying to your letter of June, 1962, requesting information concerning your son. I am sorry to disappoint you, but this agency is unable to furnish you any such information. Also, we have made inquiries of other government departments, and these, too, have no pertinent information.

We have every sympathy for you in your natural concern for the fate of your son, and I am sorry as I can be that we cannot help. Please be assured that if at any time we are able to furnish information we will contact you promptly.

Still Mrs. Shamburger did not give up. She decided to go to the very top. She wrote to the President of the United States. On October 4, 1962, Brigadier General Godfrey T. McHugh, the Air Force aide to the President, wrote back. His letter expressed sympathy and said in part:

If any information is ever obtained on the circumstances surrounding the loss of your son, you will be informed immediately. Unfortunately, at present neither CIA nor any other government agency possesses the slightest pertinent information on your son's disappearance.

Riley Shamburger's mother was determined to keep trying.

"I am not going to give up," she said. "They take your boy away and never let you know what happened."

Mrs. Shamburger's correspondence with Washington, of course, was going on behind the scenes. After the brief flurry of publicity right after the Bay of Pigs, the story of the four missing Americans dropped out of the news for almost two years -- until it reappeared dramatically on February 25, 1963.

On that date Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, Illinois Republican and minority leader of the Senate, revealed that four American fliers had been killed at the Bay of Pigs. He said he had learned this in the course of a one-man inquiry into the Cuban invasion.

Dirksen's disclosure was extremely embarrassing for the Kennedy Administration. In the first place, on April 12, 1961, five days before the invasion, President Kennedy had said:

"This government will do everything it possibly can, and I think it can meet its responsibilities, to make sure that there are no Americans involved in any actions inside Cuba."

In the second place, on January 21, 1963, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the President's brother, had said in an interview with David Kraslow of the Knight newspapers that no Americans died at the Bay of Pigs.

Robert Kennedy, in this interview and a similar one with U.S. News & World Report, said something else of greater, and historical, significance: a ranking official of the government for the first time admitted clearly, and on the record, that the Bay of Pigs was a United States operation, planned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA. "The President had to give approval to the plan," [1] Robert Kennedy said. The Joint Chiefs "did approve it, although responsibility for the planning lay primarily with the CIA." *4

After Dirksen's statement, newsmen sought out the elder Mrs. Shamburger. "If no Americans were involved," she said, with obvious reference to statements by President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, "where is my son?"

She said she had written to the President about her son "but he evaded my question."

The White House was alarmed. Andrew T. Hatcher, the assistant presidential press secretary, issued a statement. General McHugh had answered Mrs. Shamburger's letter, Hatcher explained.

"At the direction of the President," he said, "the general extended the President's heartfelt sympathy and explained that the government had, unfortunately, no information to add to that which had been conveyed to Mrs. Shamburger before.

"We are informed that representatives of the organization which employed Mr. Shamburger reported her son's death, and as much as is known of the circumstances, to Mrs. Shamburger in the spring of 1962."

However, the White House carefully did not make public the actual text of its letter to Mrs. Shamburger, in which McHugh had assured her that "at present neither CIA nor any other government agency possesses the slightest pertinent information on your son's disappearance."

Senator Mike Mansfield, the Democratic leader of the Senate, tried to blunt Dirksen's political thrust. He noted that Carlson's announcement in Birmingham on May 4, 1961 (the false cover story about the C-46) had been carried at the time (as a four-paragraph item) in the New York Times. There was nothing new about the story, Mansfield declared. He also said that a few, selected members of Congress had been told at the time that four Americans were killed in the invasion; but Mansfield said he did not know how the fliers met their deaths.

On March 4, 1963, following Dirksen's disclosure, Carlson told newsmen who inquired about the widows' checks that a,

"Central American group authorized Double-Chek to set up a trust fund for payments in case the men died. Now the widows receive these disbursements."

Then Carlson backed away from his "nest egg" remark of two years earlier. The four men, he said,

"never were considered soldiers of fortune. They knew they were going into hazardous duty, involving anti-Castro tasks, but were motivated both by their beliefs and by attractive compensation."

Two days later, on March 6, the administration, under pressure, finally made its first oblique admission about the real role of the four airmen. At a press conference that day, this exchange took place with President Kennedy:

Q. Mr. President, can you say whether the four Americans who died in the Bay of Pigs invasion were employees of the government or the CIA?

A. Well, I would say that there are a good many Americans in the last fifteen years who have served their country in a good many different ways, a good many abroad. Some of them have lost their lives. The United States Government has not felt that it was helpful to our interest, and particularly in the struggle against this armed doctrine with which we are in struggle all around the world, to go into great detail. Let me say just about these four men: They were serving their country. The flight that cost them their lives was a volunteer flight, and that while because of the nature of their work it has not been a matter of public record, as it might be in the case of soldiers or sailors, I can say that they were serving their country. As I say, their work was volunteer.

The administration found itself in an awkward dilemma. It could not admit very much more about the four fliers because to do so would be to admit that it had misled Mrs. Shamburger and had kept the truth from the American public.

And if it opened up the record on the four fliers, this would lead directly to questions about why the carrier-based Navy jets and the B-26s, in which four Americans died, had not arrived over the beaches together.

This, in turn, would raise the question of why the President, having stated on April 12, 1961, that "United States Armed forces" would not be used "under any conditions," relented seven days later to the extent of permitting one hour of air support by the unmarked Navy jets.

In March of 1963, the case of the four CIA fliers, in short, held the key to a host of explosively difficult questions for the White House. But these were political questions. Suppression of information about the fliers was justifiable only if national security was involved. And it no longer was.

The need for security before the Bay of Pigs operation was understandable, once the President had committed himself to the invasion. It might be argued that in the immediate aftermath of the invasion it was still necessary to protect the position of the United States by fuzzing up the role of the fliers. But once the role of the United States and the CIA was freely and publicly conceded by Robert Kennedy in the two interviews in 1963, it is difficult to see how security could any longer have been a factor in cloaking the story of the four Birmingham fliers.

The administration was locked in with its previous denials to Mrs. Shamburger. It had already informed her, in writing, that it knew nothing about her son. And who could tell how much of this damaging correspondence the elderly lady might choose to reveal?

As for Carlson, he was still sticking to his script. In a private interview in Miami Springs in the summer of 1963, he said that he continued to feel the four men were, basically, flying for money. He pulled out a thick file, and, consulting it, said that Shamburger and Ray had been paid $2,200 a month, Gray $1,500 and Baker $1,700.

"Double-Chek was contacted back in 1960 by a Central American front," Carlson explained. But a moment later he said the "recruiters," whom he refused to identify, "appeared to be American businessmen." They had been recommended to him, Carlson said, by "someone at the Miami airport," whom he declined to identify.

Carlson said Double-Chek had originally been formed to hold real estate for a client.

"I was listed as president to protect the identity of my client." The client, he said, "came from Czechoslovakia and that's where he got the idea for the name." (Carlson allowed as how Cox's story about a race horse was just a bit of "jazz.")

"The recruiters," said Carlson, "came to me and said they wanted pilots for the airline business, and did I have a corporation to use. I checked through my files and found the Double-Chek Corporation. They wanted to use the corporate shell as a broker or a sort of placement agency."

Double-Chek then proceeded to recruit pilots for the "Central American front" he said. Next thing he knew, said Carlson, he got a telephone call from Central America and was told that a C-46 cargo plane had gone down with the four men. Would he please go to Birmingham and notify the widows? Carlson obliged.

Carlson professed to know nothing about the source of the money for the widows' checks. He said that at first "Double-Chek had an account at the Hialeah-Miami Springs bank and I was the authorized signator." After that, he said, the "trust account" was established at Bankers Trust in New York. "I believe there is a lump sum set up there and the interest is what's paying the ladies."

And it was true that the checks continued to come from New York. But that was all the widows had.

Three years after the Bay of Pigs the Birmingham widows had still received no official acknowledgment from the United States Government about their husbands. There had been no written notification to the wives that their husbands died while employed by, and fighting for, the United States. They had nothing official to show their children to explain their fathers' deaths.

Hutchinson later retired from the Air Force and became an oilman in Oklahoma City. He said, on March 8, 1963, that five, not four, American pilots had died flying in the Cuban operation but implied that the fifth pilot was not lost in combat.

*2 Albert C. Persons, managing editor of the weekly Birmingham Examiner, said on March 8, 1963, that the plane carrying Shamburger and Gray was shot down by a T-33 jet. Persons was one of the American pilots at Happy Valley. He had been scheduled to fly in Shamburger's bomber. Doster canceled his mission because Persons had experience flying carrier aircraft rather than the B-26.

*3 Hayes was not notably communicative. When one of the authors asked for information about the background of the four men, who had worked for the company for many years, a Hayes public- relations spokesman said he would have to check with "topside." After doing so, he said he could give out no information. "The matter is closed as far as we are concerned," he said.

*4 Prior to this, the clearest statement by the administration was made by President Kennedy in an interview with the three major TV networks on December 17,1962. Speaking in general terms of the 1961 Cuban invasion, the President said: "And I was responsible."

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