Setting the Record Straight…55th Anniversary of the U-2 Incident
Setting the Record Straight By Francis Gary Powers, Jr.
May 1, 2015
55th Anniversary of the U-2 Incident
55 years after my father was shot down over the former Soviet Union I still find it interesting that people who know very little about my father, the U-2 Incident, his actions or inactions, are usually the first to post comments to newsgroups, blogs, and or write editorials or articles that continue to circulate misinformation, disrespect my father, and contradict the truth of what has been determined over the past 55 years through declassified documents, CIA / USAF history conferences, and official US/USSR military reports.
As a result of my father being unable to stand up for himself while imprisoned in the former Soviet Union (and after his death), there were many editorials written in newspapers and reported in the media about my father’s actions…how he supposedly had a flame out, defected, landed the plane intact, and or spilled his guts and told the KGB everything he knew.
For the record, on May 1, 1960 Powers was shot down at his assigned altitude of 70,500 feet over Sverdlovsk, USSR by a newly developed Soviet SA-2 missile. There was no sabotage, no flame out, and no conspiracy to ruin the May 16 Paris Summit Conference. After bailing out of the aircraft at 30,000 feet his parachute opened at 15,000 feet and Powers parachuted down to the ground where he was caught and turned over to the KGB. After being captured, Powers was interrogated for three months in the KGB Lubyanka Prison, tried August 17 at the Hall of Columns, and sentenced August 19 to ten years in Soviet prison.
He was held prisoner for a total of 21 months until his exchange at the Glienicker Bridge on February 10, 1962 for Russian spy Colonel Rudolph Abel who was caught in the late 1950’s in New York City. Although Captain Powers has been criticized at times for “living though” the ordeal by some in the American government, the media, and veteran groups, 1998 declassified documents show that he was not under orders to commit suicide if captured, gave out no secret information to the enemy, and refused to denounce the United States of America at his show trial. As a result Soviet intelligence gained no vital information from him during his twenty-one months of captivity.
Following his return to the United States in February 1962 he was extensively debriefed by the CIA and shown “to be a fine young man performing well under dangerous circumstances” on March 6, 1962 by the Senate Select Committee assembled to investigate the U-2 Incident. Powers flew for Lockheed as a U-2 test pilot from late 1963 until early 1970. In 1970 he published his book, “Operation Overflight,” which detailed his account of the U-2 Incident. From 1972 to 1977, he flew for radio and television stations in Los Angeles, doing on-air weather, news, and traffic reports. Powers was killed in a helicopter crash August 1, 1977 in Los Angeles, California while reporting news for K-NBC television. In October 2015, Steven Spielberg will release a movie, Bridge of Spies, about James Donovan and the spy swap between my father and Colonel Rudolph Abel.
Powers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and received the following military and CIA awards as a result of his service to the United States during the Cold War:
Awards and Decorations
Distinguished Flying Cross – 1959 (presented to family in 1986, presented again May 1, 2000)
CIA Intelligence Star for Valor – April 20, 1963
CIA Director’s Medal for Extreme Fidelity and Courage – May 1, 2000
National Defense Service Medal – May 1, 2000
Prisoner of War Medal – May 1, 2000
USAF Silver Star – June 2012
“Citation To Accompany Award Of The Distinguished Flying Cross To Francis Gary Powers”. This document states:“Captain Francis G. Powers distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a U-2 pilot assigned to Turkey on 1 May 1960. Flying under extremely hazardous conditions, Captain Powers was able to penetrate denied territory providing support to the joint United States Air Force-Agency U-2 Program. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Captain Powers reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
“Citation To Accompany Award Of The Silver Star To Francis Gary Powers”. This document states:“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Captain Francis Gary Powers, United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States from 1 May 1960 to 10 February 1962. During this period, while assigned to the Joint United States Air Force, Central Intelligence Agency, U-2 Reconnaissance Squadron, Detachment 10-10, Captain Powers was held captive in solitary confinement in the infamous Lubyanka Prison, Moscow, in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, after his U-2 aircraft had been shot down by a Soviet surface to air missile over enemy territory. For almost 107 days, Captain Powers was interrogated, harassed, and endured unmentionable hardships on a continuous basis by numerous top Soviet Secret Police interrogating teams. Although greatly weakened physically by the lack of food, denial of sleep and the mental rigors of constant interrogation, Captain Powers steadfastly refused all attempts to give sensitive defense information or be exploited for propaganda purposes, resisting all Soviet efforts through cajolery, trickery, and threats of death to obtain the confessions they sought as part of the pretrial investigation. Captain Powers was subjected to an international trial and was sentenced to an additional 542 days of captivity in Vladimir Prison before finally being released to United States control. As a result of his indomitable spirit, exceptional loyalty, and continuous heroic actions, Russian intelligence gained no vital information from him. For his sustained courage in an exceptionally hostile environment, Captain Powers was publicly recognized by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Armed Services Committee. By his gallantry and devotion to duty in the dedication of his service to his country, Captain Powers has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.” (http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=33580)
For more information on The Cold War Museum which I founded in 1996 to honor Cold War veterans, preserve Cold War history, and educate future generations about this time period, please visit www.coldwar.org.