Arthur Pique was just a small boy when his father was killed in the Congo fighting. He was an exiled Cuban pilot contracted by the CIA to fight for American interests against the Communists.
“I was just 5 years old when my father was killed in the Congo and I know very little about it,” Pique said.
But last week, he watched a special report by NBC Miami about the war. He saw pictures and old film Pique knew his father, Arturo, was one of those pilots.
As a youngster, he had heard stories about his father from his grandfather and mother but “being a teenager I did not pay that much attention.” The family did have a few pictures, and a couple of reels of film but they’d been in a closet for years.
Within hours of the airing of the Congo pilots story, Janet Ray, whose father was also a pilot killed during the Bay of Pigs, built a Facebook group dedicated to the Congo pilots. The response was immediate.
“I started emailing all of my friends and they said it was cool,” says Victor Lopez, whose father was a CIA contract pilot.
A number of former pilots, family members, writers, and historians had joined the group. Pictures were shared, video was posted.
“After I posted my father’s name the information just started flowing,” said Arthur Pique.
NBC Miami Producer Christine Portela watched the story giving approval to the script and video. She suddenly realized a small mystery in her life had been solved.
“I always wondered why my great aunt had so many mementos from Africa displayed in her front room,” she said.
It now made sense, Portela’s great Uncle Rene Travieso was a Congo pilot. The Travieso family provided clear, sharp, color film to the Facebook page and for the production of an NBCMiami follow up story.
Jack Varela’s father flew in the Bay of Pigs Mission and in the Congo. Like other pilots he relished another shot at Castro’s troops who were backing a Communist attempt to take over the former Belgium colony. Varela’s father was an avid photographer and shot reels of 8mm film.
"Over the years I have not paid much attention to this stuff, “ Varela said.
But after seeing the story on TV and checking into the Facebook group, Varela said: “All of a sudden it has become a full force in my life.”
Che Guevara and the Cuban troops were driven out of the Congo. Author Frank Villafana author of “Cold War in the Congo,” said the pro government Congo troops could never have succeeded without the air support provided by the pilots flying T-28s and B-26 fighter-bombers.
“I am glad you are bringing it out because it needs to be said. This is one of the brightest times and we did shine. I love being able to say that’s my father,” said Victor Lopez about the NBCMiami story and the follow up Facebook page.