|Capt Gary Powers - See Below for photo credits|
The “Best Father’s Day Present Ever” is how Gary described this award for his dad who was shot down on May 1st 1960. More than 50 years ago; it was a major event in the geopolitical world but very personal for this man’s family. Rumors circulated, was it pilot error, did the pilot become a traitor, a superpower summit cancelled, secrets revealed or not, how did he survive, why did he not take the suicide pill, did he have a suicide pill and much more and it was discussed over every American dinner table for days, weeks, months. Misinformation, even disinformation was shared as Captain Powers languished in a Soviet prison.
From his official biography for the Silver Star presentation on Friday, “When asked how high he was flying on May 1, 1960, Powers would often respond, “Not high enough.”
Eventually released during a trade for a notorious Soviet spy, he came home to a hushed story. The details were not released till 1998 based on their classification so the man who had been the hero could not protect his reputation. Unable to challenge the media stories, the whispers behind his back, he flew U-2s for Lockheed for several years and then was killed in a helicopter crash in 1977 while flying for news stations in Los Angeles.
But this is a story of the present; of a son’s efforts to gain recognition not only for his own dad but also for all the Cold War heroes who served during the undeclared war of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. According to Gary Jr, thousands died on “training missions” and as a child, he thought every child’s dad had spent time as a prisoner of war. The Cold War history became a focus for his life and he shared how the Cold War Museum had opened last year at Vint Hill, VA. Less than 30 miles from Dulles International Airport, the former Vint Hill Farms Station is an appropriate location as it was used during the Cold War, by the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the US Army.
A bit of closure for all those involved; but also an appreciation for the Air Force that was able to correct the record and approve the award. Gary said that the senior Powers, “held no grudge” for the Air Force - he dealt with the political climate of his day. The Central Intelligence Agency and Air Force did not declassify the joint U-2 mission until 1998 allowing for Captain Powers to receive the following medals he deserved:
CIA Intelligence Star for Valor (April 20, 1965)
CIA Director’s Award for Extreme Fidelity and Courage (May 1, 2000)
USAF Distinguished Flying Cross (May 1, 2000)
Prisoner of War Medal (May 1, 2000)
National Defense Service Medal (May 1, 2000)
USAF Silver Star (June 15, 2012)
It is “never too late to set the record straight … even if its 50 years.” Gary Powers,Jr.
Friday marks the final day of a long road for a dad and his son! Happy Father’s Day Gary! Listen to a live audio of this great interview at DoDLive.
PS: After speaking and writing to Gary, the Cold War Museum is considering joining the Blue Star Museums organization that is offering free admission this summer for active duty families. Be sure to contact them in the future if you are interested in a visit while planning a trip to the capital or if you live in the area.
Photo Credit: Capt. Francis Gary Powers and U-2 c. 1963. Photos courtesy of www.coldwar.org.