The Miami Herald

New Miami Herald database details Operation Pedro Pan

14,048 frightened Cuban youngsters.

That's the number sent ahead to the United States nearly 50 years ago by desperate parents convinced Fidel Castro's violent wave of Communism would ensnare their children.

The historic escape famously known as Operation Pedro Pan was concocted by an American school master, James Baker of Ruston Academy in Havana and carried out by an Irish priest in Miami, Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh -- all with the money and blessing of the federal government.

No official computerized listing has existed of the 6- to 17-year-olds who took part in the clandestine airlift, the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere. It began in December 1960 and ended in October 1962 -- a casualty of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On Sunday, The Miami Herald will unveil the first-of-its-kind Operation Pedro Pan Database -- a searchable listing of the 14,048 youngsters' names, their ages upon arrival in the United States and their immediate destination. The database will be accessible at www.MiamiHerald.com/pedropan.

In its print edition, The Herald will chronicle the story of the secret operation and share the tales of a handful of Operation Pedro Pan veterans who began their lives in exile alone, as unaccompanied minors who went to live in camps and centers, foster homes and orphanages until they could be reunited with their parents.

Fittingly, the mission was given its name by the late Gene Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The Miami Herald.

This weekend, those attending Cuba Nostalgia at Tamiami Park Fair-Expo Center in west Miami-Dade can preview the database at The Miami Herald pavilion through Sunday.

The names in the database come from what Pedro Pan historians call ''the Airport Log'' -- handwritten names of the children kept by Jorge ''George'' Guarch, a Cuban exile hired by the Catholic Church to greet the children at Miami International Airport and help with their paperwork.

''I remember my parents saying goodbye to me in Havana and reminding me to ask for George the minute I landed in Miami,'' said Eloisa Echazabal, who came through the program at age 13. ``And when I got off the plane, he was there to help us, just like they had told me. That was very comforting to me.''

Echazabal didn't realize it at the time, but Guarch wrote down her name and her 8-year-old sister's, Teresita, who accompanied her. They appear on the log and are now included in the database.

Among other Pedro Panners in the database: Florida's U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez; singers Willy Chirino and his wife Lissette; Miami City Commissioner Tomas Regalado; developers Armando Codina and Ralph Sanchez; and The Florida Bar president Frank Angones.

The most notorious? Famed drug kingpin Sal Magluta, who with his partner Willy Falcon ran Miami's biggest drug empire in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Books and documentaries have tried to capture the fear that prompted so many parents to send their unaccompanied children to America -- and the culture shock they experienced when they found themselves living with strangers in this country.

Today, Echazabal, a member of Operation Pedro Pan Group in Miami, is among veterans of the mission -- many now in their 60s -- also working feverishly to preserve the history of the Pedro Pan exodus.

''I don't think in our lifetime there will be another large effort to help children escape communism,'' she said.

This is the second database related to Cuban exile history compiled by The Miami Herald.

Last year, the newspaper launched The Freedom Flights Database, which lists the names of the 260,000 Cubans who came to Miami on those daily flights between 1965 and 1973. That database is accessible by clicking here




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