Joe Shannon: American pilot who flew in Bay of Pigs invasion

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The Independent Online

Joe Shannon, who died on 5 January aged 88, was a retired Alabama National Guard pilot who trained anti-Castro pilots and flew in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba nearly five decades ago.

About 1,500 Cuban exiles trained under CIA guidance in Guatemala and invaded the island in April 1961 trying to overthrow Fidel Castro's communist regime. Shannon was among about 60 Alabama National Guard members who were recruited to help in the invasion. He both trained Cuban pilots and flew a last-ditch mission into Cuba before the invasion failed.

Speaking in 2006, Shannon described turning his B-26 bomber into the path of a Cuban T-33 fighter and staying out of the pilot's sight by hugging the ocean. "It was the only way I had to escape," said Shannon, who was barred from publicly discussing his role in the invasion for years because of national security.

Shannon remained close to a Cuban pilot he helped train for the Bay of Pigs, and he wanted to visit Cuba a few years ago with a university group traveling to the island nation. The US government advised him against going, however. "Castro still had me on a hit list," he said.

Shannon, who served as an Army Air Corps pilot during the Second World World War, was a member of the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.