Young Bay of Pigs Pilot Returns To a Long-Delayed Funeral
By John Arnold
Herald Staff Writer
The young American was at the controls of a B26 bomber
that day, unloading bombs and machinegun fire on Fidel Castro’s military
headquarters in a sugar mill 28 miles from Havana.
The Cubans fired back, April 19, 1961. Thomas (Pete) Ray met his death
when he was 30 years old. It was the Bay of Pigs invasion.
One of four American flyers from Birmingham, Ala., who died that violent
day, Ray’s body was found frozen 18 years later in the Havana morgue.
On Wednesday night, the young American’s body arrived at Miami
International Airport on the way to a hometown military funeral. A son who was
only seven years old when his father was shot down over Cuba met the body.
After all these years, Pete Ray is headed home to a grave on a
Birmingham hillside. “A funeral is for the living,” his son said. “It helps
emotionally to bury the memory.”
Tom Ray is his father’s namesake. He is 26 and studying to be a lawyer.
“I remember that he used to take me flying with him in small planes,” he said.
Today he flies back to Birmingham with his father’s body.
So, will Tom Bailey, a Birmingham newspaperman and Pete Ray’s first
In Birmingham, Pete Ray is held to be a hero. “We decided he died
fighting for his country,” Bailey said. “We decided his body should not be in cold
storage in the Havana morgue. It’s not the way to care for someone you love
and respect,” he said.
Around Birmingham, the numerous Rays and Baileys account for a
sizable part of the population. Most of the two families will be there Saturday
when Mary (Bailey) Murdock buries her son. So will U.S. Rep. John Buchanan
(R., Birmingham) a Baptist minister who helped persuade the Cubans to turn
over his frozen corpse.
“We all grew up Southern, patriotic, independent and ornery,” said Tom
Bailey. “We grew up scrappin’ and fightin,’ sayin’ this is my country, by God, and
don’t mess with it.”
Pete Ray was the first-born grandchild on the Bailey side. They learned
to fear the devil and communism. Six of his uncles were in the armed forces.
One was a wounded Marine who won the Silver Star.
When he turned 16, Pete Ray forged his mother’s signature on the papers
and joined the Air National Guard.
Later, he took Army National Guard helicopter training at Fort Rucker, Ala.
When he resigned from that, he went to work for Hayes International Corp., a
company with defense contracts in Birmingham.
In February 1961, he told his wife, Margaret, he was going to an officer’s
training school. She wrote to him at a post office box in Chicago. He never
Neither did three other pilots who worked for Hayes. The dead Americans
had flown two of the 16 bombers that took off from the jungles of Nicaragua for
missions over Cuba. The families began receiving $225 twice a month from a
mysterious bank account.
“Nobody has ever told us officially he was working for the CIA,” his son
Ray’s copilot, Lee Baker, was shot dead by Cuban militiamen after the
plane crash landed on a grassy strip near the headquarters. Ray is believed to
have escaped to a swampy area two miles away where he was tracked down
and shot. Two other B26 flyers from Birmingham died when their plane went
down over the bay during the landing.
Four years after the Bay of Pigs, Margaret Ray remarried. She has since
had a stroke. But she will be at the funeral. So will his daughter, Janet, now
married to a U.S. Air Force pilot stationed in West Germany. She is flying back.
The congressman will say a few words at the service. Former Alabama
Gov. George Wallace may be there. Former Alabama Sen. John Sparkman may
be there too.
Janet Ray, 25, is now Janet Weisinger. She never gave up on bringing
her father home. When Fidel Castro told visiting U.S. officials two years ago
about the body of the frozen American in the Havana morgue, she pressed for
“You might say she was driven by the memory of her father in her mind.
She was always trying to learn more about him,” Bailey said.
Over the last three years, Janet Weisinger and her brother had made a
half dozen trips to Miami individually or together to interview Brigade 2506
veterans about what happened to their father.
After family pleas to the State Department, to the then-Sen. Sparkeman
and to U.S. Rep. Buchanan, the Cuban government agreed to try to identify the
body. The FBI got fingerprints taken from the frozen body and decided in late
August that the corpse belonged to Pete Ray.