Wings of Denial: Americans who died at Bay of Pigs honored

Wings of Denial: The Alabama Air National Guard's Covert Role at the Bay of PigsThis week marks the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, an unsuccessful action by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba, with support and encouragement from the U.S. government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs would go down as one of the United States’ biggest strategic blunders: More than 100 men were killed, including four U.S. pilots, and Castro remained as the leader of Cuba.

But it took nearly four decades before the government would recognize the deeds of those four U.S. pilots–Major Riley Shamburger, Captain Thomas W. Ray, Wade Gray, and Leo Baker, all Alabama Air National Guardsmen–who died at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Their names were finally made public and memorialized at the CIA’s Wall of Honor in Langley, Virginia.

Major Riley Shamburger and Wade Gray were killed when a T-33 shot them down a few hundred yards offshore. Captain Thomas W. Ray and Leo Baker were shot down while attacking inland targets near Castro’s headquarters at the Australia sugar mill. Eyewitnesses stated that the two guardsmen survived the crash but were killed by Cuban militiamen. The body of Captain Ray remained in Cuba, where it was frozen as a war trophy and evidence of U.S. involvement in the invasion, until 1978.

The stories of these men are told in Wings of Denial: The Alabama Air National Guard’s Covert Role at the Bay of Pigs, by Warren Trest and Donald Dodd (NewSouth Books). We at Blair would like to honor them today, fifty years later, just like Congress did last week when it offered a congressional salute to eight Bay of Pigs veterans. “Though the operation was not successful, the dedication and commitment that these brave individuals illustrated during the conflict was exceptional,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. “The men who fought courageously on that historic day came from many backgrounds, but all cared for the freedom and liberty of Cuba.”


Celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day

As part of national poetry month, today is national Poem In Your Pocket Day!

The idea is simple: select a poem you love and carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends. You can even attend a Poem In Your Pocket Day reading–look here for events near you. And if you’re looking for a new poem to share, we can help!

This fall, Hub City Press will publish Waking, by Ron Rash, and Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poetry from the Carolinas, edited by Kwame Dawes. Both sets of poems will be published in October, but they’re available for preorder now. Enjoy!


Waking by Ron Rash | poetry

Our favorite Civil War titles

Booming cannons, a brass ensemble, and hushed crowds ushered in the 150th anniversary of America’s bloodiest war yesterday at Fort Sumter. April 12 marked 150 years since the Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, a battle that plunged the nation into four years of war at a cost of more than 600,000 lives.

To help remember the deadliest war in United States history, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite Civil War books. If you’re looking to learn more about the American Civil War, these titles are for you!

_________________________________________________________________________Touring Civil War Sites by Clint Johnson

Touring the Carolina’s Civil War Sites (2nd Edition) and Touring Virginia’s and West Virginia’s Civil War Sites (2nd Edition) by Clint Johnson

COMING IN MAY! Preorder your copy today.

The updated versions of both these Touring books help travelers find the states’ battlefields, forts, and memorials, as well as the lesser skirmish sites, homes, and towns that played significant roles in the war. Touring the Carolina’s Civil War Sites covers the entire Carolinas, combining riveting history with clear, concise directions and maps. As fascinating to read as it is fun to take on the road, this second edition includes additional historic houses in Charleston, a new battlefield in New Bern, updated driving directions, new photos for each site, and more. Touring Virginia’s and West Virginia’s Civil War Sites covers all the significant sites in both states. The 17 tours visit large and small battlefields, historic houses and buildings, cemeteries, monuments and statues, rivers, and mountains, while sharing the histories behind each location, some surprising and obscure.


So You Think You Know Gettsyburg? by James and Suzanne Gindlesperger

So You Think You Know Gettysburg? shows why the famous battlefield a place not only of horrible carnage and remarkable bravery but endless fascination.

Who, or what, was Penelope? Whose dog is depicted on the Eleventh Pennsylvania Monument, and why? What are the Curious Rocks? Why does Gettysburg have two markers for the battle’s first shot, and why are they in different locations?

The plentiful maps, the nearly 200 site descriptions, and the 270-plus color photos in So You Think You Know Gettysburg? will answer questions you didn’t even know you had about America’s greatest battlefield.


Undaunted Heart by Suzy Barile

When a brigade of General Sherman’s victorious army marched into Chapel Hill the day after Easter 1865, the Civil War had just ended and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Citizens of the picturesque North Carolina college town had endured years of hardship and sacrifice, and now the Union army was patrolling its streets. One of Sherman’s young generals paid a visit to the stately home of David Swain, president of the University of North Carolina and a former governor of the state, to inform him that the town was now under Union occupation.

Against this unlikely backdrop began a passionate and controversial love story still vivid in town lore. When President Swain’s daughter Ella met the Union general, life for these two young people who had spent the war on opposite sides was forever altered.

General Smith Atkins of Illinois abhorred slavery and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln. Spirited young Ella Swain had been raised in a slave-owning family and had spent the war years gathering supplies to send to Confederate soldiers.

But, as a close friend of the Swains wrote, when Atkins met Ella, the two “‘changed eyes’ at first sight and a wooing followed.”

The reaction of the Swains and fellow North Carolinians to this North-South love affair was swift and often unforgiving.

In Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General, author Suzy Barile, a great-great-granddaughter of Ella Swain and Smith Atkins, tells their story, separating facts from the elaborate embellishments the famous courtship and marriage have taken on over the generations. Interwoven throughout Undaunted Heart are excerpts from Ella’s never-before-published letters to her parents that reveal a loving marriage that transcended differences and scandal.


Civil War Blunders by Clint Johnson

There was little funny about a war in which 620,000 Americans died. But it was finding humor amid devastation that kept Civil War soldiers marching toward the enemy.

Union or Confederate, those in command proved adept at making mistakes. Many leaders were drunkards, couldn’t speak English, didn’t know a cannon’s breech from its muzzle. Among the galleries of heroes were:

  • Colonel Edward Baker, who told his Federals to follow the plume of his hat if they wanted to find war—and sent them over a cliff in a panicked retreat
  • General Felix Zollicoffer, who wore a white raincoat so opposing Federals could see him—but not his eyeglasses so he could see them
  • Lieutenant Commander Thomas Selfridge of the Union navy, who “found two torpedoes and removed them by placing his vessel over them”
  • Colonel Alfred Rhett, a captured Southern blue blood whose fancy boots proved too small for every Union officer who coveted them
  • Rum-drinking James Ledlie and dance-instructing Edward Ferrero, generals who kept each other company in a Union bombproof while their men faced slaughter

From Fort Sumter to Appomattox, Civil War Blunders traces the war according to its amusing, often deadly miscues. Lurking behind every significant action, as readers will discover, was someone with a red face.


Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, by Chris J. Hartley

In the spring of 1865, Federal major general George Stoneman launched a cavalry raid deep into the heart of the Confederacy. Over the next two months, Stoneman’s cavalry rode across six Southern states, fighting fierce skirmishes and destroying supplies and facilities. When the raid finally ended, Stoneman’s troopers had brought the Civil War home to dozens of communities that had not seen it up close before. In the process, the cavalrymen pulled off one of the longest cavalry raids in U.S. military history.

Despite its geographic scope, Stoneman’s 1865 raid failed in its primary goal of helping to end the war. Instead, the destruction the raiders left behind slowed postwar recovery in the areas it touched. In their wake, the raiders left a legacy that resonates to this day, even in modern popular music such as The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Based on exhaustive research in 34 repositories in 12 states and from more than 200 books and newspapers, Hartley’s book tells the complete story of Stoneman’s 1865 raid for the first time.


For more Civil War titles, visit our website.

Donald Davis is touring North Carolina–this is one author you don’t want to miss!

Last Friday, Books to Be Red in Ocracoke welcomed Donald Davis as he began a statewide book tour. Donald wowed the crowd by telling them one of the new stories in his latest book, Tales from a Free-Range Childhood. This collection of humourous childhood tales has received glowing reviews from the New York Journal of BooksForeWord Reviews, and Booklist. It’s also a SIBA Okra Pick. Learn more at our website.

Donald is touring North Carolina throughout April, so don’t miss him (or his signature bow tie) when he makes an appearance near you! Full tour details are below the photos, and you can learn more about his storytelling festival appearances at Donald’s own website.

Thanks to Leslie at Books to Be Red for these photos!


Saturday, April 9 at 2 p.m.
Park Road Books
Park Road Shopping Center
4139 Park Road
Charlotte, NC 28209
Phone: 704-525-9239

Monday, April 18 at 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
1925 Hampton Court Inn
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Phone: 336-774-0800

Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
3102 Northline Avenue
Greensboro, NC 27408
Phone: 336-854-4200

Wednesday, April 20 at 7 p.m.
Flyleaf Books
752 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919-942-7373

Thursday, April 21 at 7 p.m.
The Country Bookshop
140 NW Broad Street
Southern Pines, NC 28387
Phone: 910-692-3211

Tuesday, May 10 at 4:30 p.m.
Fountainhead Bookstore
408 North Main Street
Hendersonville, NC 28792
Phone: 828-697-1870

Wednesday, May 11 at 3 p.m.
City Lights Bookstore
3 East Jackson Street
Sylva, NC 28779
Phone: 828-586-9499

Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m.
Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: 1-800-441-9829

Thursday, May 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Blue Ridge Books
152 South Main Street
Waynesville, NC 28786
Phone: 828-456-6000

Saturday, May 28 at 11 a.m.
McIntyre’s Fine Books
2000 Fearrington Village
Pittsboro, NC 27312
Phone: 919-542-3030

Wednesday, June 29 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Manteo Booksellers
105 Sir Walter Raleigh Street
Manteo, NC 27954
Phone: 252-473-1221