Operation Pedro Pan

Recovered notes give birth to Herald's Pedro Pan database project

F or nearly half a century, one of the more fascinating chapters in the history of Miami has been hidden away inside binders, all but forgotten.

In them, recorded in careful script, were the names of 14,048 children who left their parents in Cuba and arrived in Miami in the exodus that came to be called Operation Pedro Pan.

Then, one day last fall, the daughter of one of the Pedro Pan boys noticed a story in The Miami Herald about how the paper tracked down the names of all the Freedom Flights passengers and turned the list into a searchable database.

''You've got to do the same thing for Pedro Pan,'' she told Herald reporter Luisa Yanez, the force behind the Freedom Flights package that drew an outpouring of responses last year. Then she told her the story of the logs.

Luisa went to work, and today's paper includes that story, along with profiles, historical photographs and a new Pedro Pan database on MiamiHerald.com. It lists all of the Pedro Pan children and enables registrants to check for names, message one another and leave comments.

Rarely does a chapter of local history carry such mystique and appeal. The stories are at once inspiring and tragic. Some of the children never saw their parents again. Yet many grew up to be leading figures in Florida, from U.S. Senator Mel Martinez to Miami business leader Armando Codina.

Today's package is in several places in the paper. On the front page is the story of Jorge Guarch, the man who met the children at the airport and built the logs that today have such meaning. ''He became the face of America to the kids,'' Luisa said.

Stories of Pedro Pan children are told in the A-section and in Issues & Ideas, which also includes a two-page spread of photos and stories. The project also includes a special partnership with WPBT public television, which will air a documentary -- Suitcase Full of Dreams -- on the Freedom Flights on Thursday, May 28 at 8 p.m. on WPBT-PBS 2.

And there's the database, which anyone can use to search the 14,048 names. The logs will remain posted on the website as part of an effort to preserve the history of South Florida.

''From a historical perspective, it's really pretty extraordinary,'' said Nancy San Martin, the editor on the project.


Susan Stanfield Banert, from Miami, wondered why The Herald switched last week to an optional TV Book, which costs an extra 25 cents a week. She said she was ''rattled'' by the change and asked about the reasoning.

Answer: The changes to the TV Book are part of a number of steps to deal with a recession that has hit all media companies. The TV book contributes to a lot of waste, because fewer than 20 percent of our readers use the book, but those who do use it want more information than it provides.

By making it a choice, we save newsprint, and also can expand the book from 28 to 36 pages, returning movies and fuller listings to its pages. The quarter charge is a way of making sure readers actually want the book.

We know not everybody was happy with this. But as of this week, about 18,000 readers opted for the book, which has made this a very successful effort. Anyone who wants to arrange for delivery can call 800-843-4372 and press option 6.

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 Anders Gyllenhaal can be reached at 305-376-3790 or andersg@MiamiHerald.com. Twitter.com/agyllenhaal.

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