Daughter recalls pilot killed in Cuba
A woman whose father was a CIA pilot executed during the Bay of Pigs invasion testified Monday in her lawsuit seeking damages from Cuba.
The daughter of a CIA pilot shot down and executed by the Cuban government during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion repeatedly broke into tears Monday as she described her loving father and her 18-year crusade that began when she was 6 to recover his body.
Janet Weininger was testifying in her Miami-Dade Circuit Court lawsuit seeking damages from the Cuban government for her father's execution and for displaying his frozen body in a glass case at a morgue. She is suing under a federal anti-terrorism law that allows the families of victims executed by state sponsors of terrorism to seek damages.
LETTERS TO CASTRO
Weininger said she wrote more than 200 letters and telegrams to Cuban President Fidel Castro trying to recover the body of her father, Alabama National Guard pilot Thomas ''Pete'' Ray.
''You don't get an answer back, and you know this person has the keys to your life. He's holding your life hostage,'' Weininger said. ``You don't understand how can someone be so evil they can't tell you.''
Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick was hearing the case without a jury and as he observed, ''I noticed that there's nobody on the other side.'' As in other similar lawsuits, the Cuban government offers no defense. Damages are awarded, but the potential for recovery is limited.
In the Bay of Pigs invasion, about 1,500 exiles trained by the CIA in Guatemala charged the island in April 1961 in an attempt to overthrow Castro's 2-year-old communist government. The three-day invasion ended in debacle and more than 1,000 invaders were captured and about 100 were killed.
Weininger's father trained six dozen pilots for invasion flights from Nicaragua to Cuba. His B-26 was shot down less than 48 hours after the first landing in what Weininger thought was a rescue mission, and he died of a contact gunshot wound to the right temple. She obtained a photograph of Castro inspecting her father's plane, identifiable by its tail number.
Despite attempts by the U.S. government and the Ray family to retrieve his body, it wasn't flown north until 1979. Weininger emitted a gulping sob when she identified a gruesome photograph of his head showing a gaping eye socket, blackened flesh and protruding teeth.
''I just love him so much and to see what [Castro has] done to him. No humane person does that to someone,'' said Weininger, who learned to tie her shoes by practicing on her father's flight boots. She holds Castro personally responsible for the treatment of her father's body.
From the time her father disappeared without an official explanation, she quizzed relatives and began hanging out at the library to track down the names of people who served with her father. By college, she was flying to Miami to spend her free time looking for Bay of Pigs veterans who might know what had happened to her father.
KNOWN IN CONGRESS
As an Air Force wife living in Germany, she became known in Congress and had back-channel dealings with the Czech Embassy before meeting a historian who gave her photographs of the bodies of her father and his co-pilot Leo Baker.
After a 1985 Miami radio interview, two Cuban men came forward to say her father had been shot in a medical unit that served as Castro's military headquarters during the invasion.
In an unrelated trial last year, the widow and four children of an American businessman executed by a Cuban firing squad at the time of the 1961 invasion won a $67 million award against the Cuban government.