At a joint news conference on February 28 with House Minority Leader Charles A. Halleck, party of a semi-regular series that had become known "Ev and Charley Show," Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen had called for a Senate investigation into the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation of April 1961. Dirksen was evidently prompted in part by a report in an Alabama newspaper the previous month that claimed that four American pilots, all from Alabama, had been killed when their B-26 bomber had been shot during the invasion. The source of the claim was a reporter who had participated in the air operation over Cuba and had known the pilots who had died. Responding to the implication of an administration coverup, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield∇ said that the deaths of four American pilots, all of whom had volunteered to fly combat missions, had been reported to a select few Congressional leaders at the time.1
Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus had subsequently claimed that 12 Arkansas Air National Guard pilots had volunteered for the 1961 invasion and had flown missions.2, 7 March 1963, p.1.
Earlier in the day, President Kennedy had asked National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy to investigate the issue and report back.
President Kennedy: Hello?
McGeorge Bundy: Sir, the--
President Kennedy: [unclear]
Bundy: --nobody from Arkansas flew in combat. There were 24 from Arkansas.
President Kennedy: Yeah. Did they fly that day? Were they any in the planes?
Bundy: None flew in combat over the Bay of Pigs. They were not, in other words, sent on those missions.
President Kennedy: Oh, who--most of those were other fellows?
Bundy: All the four that were killed were Alabamians.
President Kennedy: I knew all the four that were killed--
President Kennedy: --but there were some other other Americans, weren't there?
Bundy: There were. There were some others, and I'm trying to find out what states, but so far all they've reported is negative on Arkansas.
President Kennedy: They're sure of that?
Bundy: Well, [Richard M.] Dick Helms says he's sure.3
President Kennedy: I see. And what about . . . you don't know when they were recruited, do you?
Bundy: I've got--I've got to look up that memo--
President Kennedy: Now, the question is whether--[President Kennedy confers with someone off the phone] He says nobody from Arkansas flew in combat. [Speaking to Bundy] We're just figuring maybe I'll get the Defense Department to say that.
Bundy: Or the [Central Intelligence] Agency? Or . . .
President Kennedy: The Agency has been reluctant.
Bundy: Yeah. I know they have.
President Kennedy: I mean, [Governor Orval E.] Faubus [D-Arkansas] is saying that I left Arkansas boys to die. [President Kennedy reads from a news report] "Recruited in the na--were recruited but left hanged by the administration by the administration of Kennedy. If that doesn't beat him, nothing will."[End reading from press account] OK. I'll talk to Dick Helms. Let me--just so I'll be sure.
Bundy: Right. Right. [Bundy hangs up, but President Kennedy starts to say something to someone in the room. When the operator comes on the line he asks to be put through to Helms at the CIA.]
President Kennedy: [to someone in the office]He says that--[to operator] Helms at the CIA, please.
Operator: Yes, Mr. President.