Veteran of the Week: Technical Sgt. Leo F. Baker

By MELANIE POOLE / Special to the Reporter

The Veteran of the Week is sponsored by the National Veterans Shrine and Register of Honor at the American Village — honoring America’s veterans and telling the stories of their service and sacrifice for the cause of liberty.

“The American Village is pleased to join the Shelby County Reporter in recognizing Technical Sgt. Leo F. Baker as Veteran of the Week,” American Village founder and CEO Tom Walker said. “He is representative of the hundreds of thousands of Alabamians who have risked it all for the sake of our country and its freedom. To all veterans we owe a debt we can never fully repay.”

Technical Sgt. Leo F. Baker is being recognized as Veteran of the Week. (Contributed)

Visit the website, Veteransregisterofhonor.com, today and add your loved ones to the Register of Honor. Help us honor, recognize, respect and remember our country’s veterans.

Here are highlights about this week’s Veteran of the Week: Leo F. Baker was born in Boston in 1926. He served in the United States Air Force during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War (1944-1957), earning the rank of Technical Sergeant. After retiring from the Air Force and moving to Birmingham, Baker was among 60 guardsmen who in January 1961 volunteered to work for the CIA to train Cuban resistance troops and to fly supply missions. They were under complete secrecy, from even their families. In the early morning of April 19, 1961, six Douglas B-26 Invaders painted in Cuban Air Force colors took off on their mission, flying in pairs having taken off in 30-minute intervals. As the bombers arrived over the beachhead at sunrise, Cuban fighters were waiting for them. The two lead B-26s came under attack but were able to deliver their ordnance and return to Nicaragua. Of the next two B-26s, one was able to out maneuver the T-33 fighters but the other plane was hit and went down. Further inland, Leo Baker, flying as Flight Engineer, and his pilot, Thomas Willard “Pete” Ray, were shot down by Cuban anti-aircraft batteries near Playa Giron after they completed several daring strafing runs. They crashed in a cane field. Baker and Ray survived the crash but were killed by Cuban soldiers. His remains are buried in a mass grave in Cuba.

Melanie Poole is Communications Officer for the American Village and can be reached at MPoole@americanvillage.org.