updated 1/6/2010 11:50:29 AM ET 2010-01-06T16:50:29

Joe Shannon, 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, died Tuesday. He was 88.

Lewis Shannon, one of Shannon's three children, said his father died after a brief illness.

"It was just a couple of weeks," he said.

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 an interview with The Associated Press 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.

He wanted to visit Cuba
The director of the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Jim Griffin, said Shannon was the last surviving Alabama Guard pilot who flew in the invasion.

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

"He was a remarkable individual," hall chairman Billy J. Singleton said. "He knew anything and everything about aviation."

Cuba after the revolution

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 U.S. government advised him against going, however.

"Castro still had me on a hit list," Shannon said in the 2006 interview.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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