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Bay Of Pigs Vets to Be Honor BY CIA

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Bay Of Pigs Vets to Be Honor BY CIA

Mensaje por Wajiro el Jue Oct 18, 2007 1:28 pm


CIA to honor Bay of Pigs vets at its art gallery

The CIA will embrace the historic -- albeit failed -- 1961 invasion of Cuba through art.

Posted on Thu, Oct. 18, 2007

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Janet Ray Weininger, whose father was shot down during the Bay of Pigs, says the Bay of Pigs was 'a tragedy' not a fiasco.

The Bay of Pigs invasion has been a low point for the U.S. government since its failure more than four decades ago. Now, the men who volunteered for the mission are being remembered at an art gallery at -- of all places -- the CIA, which plotted the clandestine operation.

Veterans of the ill-fated attempt to topple Fidel Castro -- Cuban exiles, CIA contract pilots and the families of four Alabama Air National Guardsmen who died in Cuba -- will gather Thursday at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala. There, an oil painting will be unveiled that depicts one of the successes of the covert operation: an April 1961 aerial attack on Castro's forces that took out an estimated 900 soldiers.
''It's been viewed as an embarrassment, but the modern world is recognizing it's part of our history. That's all there is to it,'' said Jorge Del Valle, 63, who was 15 when he walked into a CIA recruiting office in Miami to sign up for the venture. ``We have gained acknowledgment worldwide.''
The painting, commissioned by a North Carolina man with an interest in honoring the lost-to-history covert operators who were trained by the CIA, will be donated to the Central Intelligence Agency. It will go on permanent display at agency headquarters in Langley, Va., in a new art gallery that gives a tip of the hat to the secret agents who worked for the agency and its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services.
The gallery is not open to the public, but visitors to the CIA building are allowed to visit the art gallery and a museum, which contains artifacts of CIA missions, including a matchbox camera.
''We venerate our leaders with fine art portraits, our historical moments with paintings,'' said Jeff Bass, the Pensacola artist who spent a year interviewing pilots and Bay of Pigs veterans to create the piece. ``But while we tend to commemorate those in uniform, the clandestine services haven't gotten that kind of recognition.''
That's beginning to change, thanks to Erik Kirzinger, of Madison, N.C., whose uncle died in a covert operation in China in 1952. Kirzinger helped get his uncle's remains repatriated to the United States and during that time visited the Pentagon and other government agencies, where he saw art commemorating various operations. ''I got to thinking, there's nothing like that at the CIA,'' he said. Calling it his ''passion,'' Kirzinger got in touch with the curator of the CIA's museum to gauge interest. He found a receptive audience.
Kirzinger, who works with private individuals and corporations to raise money for the arts, said the agency has suggested it is open to illustrating any chapter in its history -- if it's declassified.
The Bay of Pigs painting, paid for by Compass Bank in Alabama, will be the fifth to hang at the CIA gallery and Bass's third; he did a portrait of Virginia Hall, a World War II spy, and a painting that depicts agents who died flying supplies to French forces in Indochina in the 1950s. (Bass also painted former Gov. Jeb Bush's official portrait, showing him with a Bible and a BlackBerry.)
A CIA spokesman said it welcomes art ''related to the work of the agency'' -- even work that illustrates not-so-successful chapters in its history.
''The fact that the overall [Bay of Pigs] operation didn't achieve its objectives in no way diminishes the lasting example of courage of those who risked -- and in some cases gave -- their lives to support it,'' agency spokesman George Little said of the Bay of Pigs painting.
Titled Lobo Flight, the 40- by 30-inch painting shows a vintage B-26 twin engine bomber flown by Connie Seigrist -- the lead pilot of a convoy of B-26s painted to look like Cuban aircraft -- dropping bombs onto a column of Cuban troops heading to the beach, where a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles had landed to attempt to overthrow Castro.
The air flights succeeded, but President John F. Kennedy's support for the operation, tepid from the beginning, weakened further and Cuban forces quickly crushed the invasion. It would go down in history as one of the United States' biggest strategic blunders.
But for the Cuban exiles who volunteered for the mission, the two CIA contract pilots, Seigrist and Doug Price, and the families of four Alabama Air National Guard members who trained the exiles on the B-26s and who were killed during the invasion, the portrait is sweet, if long-delayed recognition.
'You always hear of the Bay of Pigs, `Oh that was a fiasco,' '' said Janet Ray Weininger of South Florida, whose father, Thomas ''Pete'' Ray, was one of the pilots shot down, his body desecrated and put on display in a Havana morgue for 18 years before it was shipped back to his family. ``That's not what it was. It was a tragedy, especially for those who fought and their families.
''But for the agency to embrace something that has negative connotations for them, it means a great deal,'' said Weininger, who helped to organize the ceremony and was bringing nearly 20 exiles to Birmingham. ``It means a lot to have the agency embrace its history.''
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