Remains of Miami pilots coming home
2 died during the Bay of Pigs
BY GLENN GARVIN
Two Miami pilots whose remains lay in the Nicaraguan jungle for
decades after their plane crashed during the Bay of Pigs invasion are at last
The remains of Crispin García and Juan de Mata González,
part of a small
CIA-trained air force that fought Fidel Castro's planes in the sky over the invasion
site, will be buried together in Miami on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
``I'm pretty emotional about it,'' said Frank García, 44,
the son of one of the pilots.
``It's been a long wait.''
Plans for the funeral will be announced at a press conference
this afternoon. Lino
Gutiérrez, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs and
U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua when the pilots' remains were recovered in 1998,
is expected to attend, along with representatives of the CIA.
The funeral will mark the end of a tale that, like so many stories
from the Bay of
Pigs, has been long, tangled and painful.
García and González were both Cuban exiles. Today
is the 40th anniversary of
the García family's arrival in the United States.
The two men were among a group of 54 pilots recruited by the CIA
to provide air
support for the April 1961 invasion of the island by an exile army. Eighteen of the
pilots died during three days of fighting before Castro's forces crushed the
But unlike most of the pilots, whose planes were shot down as
the crews of other
aircraft watched, the fate of García and González was shrouded in mystery for
Their B-26 bomber flew shotgun over the invasion force for a couple
of hours, then
landed at Boca Chica Naval Air Station near Key West for emergency refueling. A
few minutes later, they took off for the secret CIA airfield, 700 miles away in
Nicaragua, from which the Bay of Pigs air war was being directed. They were
never seen again.
Seven months passed, according to declassified CIA documents,
agency learned of reports of a crash site from peasants in the remote mountains
of northern Nicaragua's Jinotega province.
The CIA station chief in Managua flew to the scene with Anastasio
commander of Nicaragua's armed forces and future president, to verify that the
plane was the missing B-26. It had apparently missed a clandestine airfield in the
dark, flew 140 miles past it and crashed after clipping a tall tree atop a 1,000-foot
Local peasants told them that some battered human remains had
near the wreckage. In the swirl of international controversy following disclosure of
the U.S. role in the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA decided to leave the remains
where they were.
Three decades later, García's son Frank -- with the aid
of Janet Ray Weininger,
who had badgered the CIA and Fidel Castro for 10 years before recovering the
body of her own father, another pilot shot down at the Bay of Pigs -- began
pressing the agency for help in locating the crash site.
When the CIA refused to help, Weininger and Frank García
went into the
Nicaraguan jungle themselves and found it. But 34 years, two civil wars, an
earthquake and a hurricane had scattered the wreckage and made finding the
burial site impossible.
In 1998, the CIA finally agreed to fund a search by the U.S. Army's
Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, which uses forensic archaeological techniques
to identify remains of missing servicemen.
The Army team spent four weeks at the crash site sifting through
cubic feet of earth, then sent a small package of bones and teeth to Hawaii for
lengthy DNA testing. Between the tests and some personal effects buried near
the remains, the two pilots were positively identified.
Frank García, who has been on an emotional roller coaster
since beginning the
search for his father, says even the positive identification has torn him.
``I'm happy that I'm finally getting my dad's remains,'' he said.
``But I'm sad about
what it is -- that we're going to bury him, and probably open some old wounds.''
García was 4 years old the last time he saw his father.
He doesn't recollect the
``I don't recall him at all, I was too small,'' García
said. ``I can't close my eyes and
see him. But I remember him every day of my life.''