Veterans

June 15, 2012

Cold War hero Powers receives posthumous Silver Star

Tags:
by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Francis Gary Powers, right, is shown with U-2 designer Kelly Johnson in 1966. Powers was an Air Force fighter pilot recruited by the CIA in 1956 to fly civilian U-2 missions deep into Russia. Powers and other Air Force Reserve pilots resigned their commissions to become civilians.

More than half a century after his plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, the heroism Air Force Capt. Francis Gary Powers displayed while piloting his U-2 aircraft was finally recognized during a Pentagon ceremony June 15.

Powers, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star — the nation’s third-highest award for combat valor. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz presented the medal to Powers’ grandson, Francis Gary “Trey” Powers and granddaughter Lindsey Berry.

The downing of his plane on May 1, 1960 was one of the most famous incidents of the Cold War. Powers was flying a clandestine mission in a U-2 over the former Soviet Union. The program, a Joint Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency mission, was a top-secret effort to monitor Soviet nuclear and missile programs.

Powers took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, and headed over the Central Asian Soviet republics. The U-2 cameras gathered invaluable information for the United States and its allies at a time when the Soviet Bear seemed to be on the ascent.

The Soviets had launched Sputnik – the world’s first satellite – in 1957. John F. Kennedy – then running for president – deplored the “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union. It was the height of the Cold War with schoolchildren conducting “duck and cover” drills in case of nuclear attack. Most buildings had signs indicating the location of fallout shelters, rooms designed to protect against radiation contamination.

Powers’ mission was to overfly Soviet missile sites, nuclear plants and rocket-launching facilities. Over Sverdlovsk his plane – flying at more than 70,000 feet – was hit by a SA-2 missile and brought down. Soviet forces captured Powers and he was held by the Soviet secret police, the KGB, in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.

The shoot down sharply increased tensions between Washington and Moscow. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to admit that the United States was flying over another sovereign nation. Protests over this broke out in Japan and Europe. Relations with Pakistan deteriorated. A Big-4 Summit – leaders of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and the United States – scheduled for Paris was canceled. The Soviet Union made propaganda of the incident at the United Nations.

And the Soviets wanted more. Teams of KGB interrogators worked on Powers to get him to give up information or turn against his country. While they never beat him, they constantly threatened him with death, said his son Gary Francis Powers Jr.

Powers spent 21 months in a Moscow prison, Schwartz said. “For nearly 107 days, Captain Powers was interrogated and harassed by numerous Soviet secret police interrogation teams,” the chief said. Powers also was held in solitary confinement.

“Although weakened by lack of food and denial of sleep and mental anguish of constant interrogation, Captain Powers refused all attempts to glean from him sensitive information that would have proved harmful to the defense and security of the United States,” Schwartz said.

In February 1962, the Soviets exchanged Powers for Soviet spy KGB Col. Rudolph Abel. The handover was conducted on “The Bridge of Spies” in Berlin.

It was a sign of the times that Powers’ return home was fraught with uncertainty and questions. A teacher told Dee Powers, the captain’s daughter, that her father should have killed himself rather than getting captured. The program was still top secret and what Powers went through was classified. The captain received the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor in 1965 and the Senate Armed Services Committee declared that Powers had conducted himself, “as a fine man under dangerous circumstances.”

The younger Powers started researching his father’s case in the late 1980s. Much of it was classified. “I would speak about the U-2 incident at classes and people would think I was talking about the rock group,” he said.

It wasn’t until 1998, seven years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that the CIA declassified records of the program and Powers’ full heroism became known, said young Gary. At that point, the captain posthumously received the CIA Director’s Award for Extreme Fidelity and Courage, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and the Prisoner of War Medal.

Today’s award of the Silver Star puts to rest the idea that somehow the captain behaved poorly in captivity, his son said.

“He loved his family, he loved flying and he loved his country,” he said.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines November 24, 2014

News: Hagel said to be stepping down as defense chief under pressure - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises. Afghan mission for U.S....
 
 

News Briefs November 24, 2014

Fog forces five U.S. choppers to land in Polish field Officials say that that fog forced five U.S. Army helicopters to make an emergency landing in a Polish field and spend the night there, the second such incident since September. The U.S. Army said 15 soldiers were moving equipment to their base in Germany Nov....
 
 
Air Force photograph by Samuel King Jr.

Navy’s first F-35C squadron surpasses 1,000 flight hours

Air Force photograph by Samuel King Jr. An F-35C Lightning II aircraft piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Chris Tabert, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, flies the squadron’s first local sortie. The F-35C is the carrier va...
 

 
boeing-SC-787

Boeing South Carolina begins final assembly of its first 787-9 Dreamliner

Boeing has started final assembly of the 787-9 Dreamliner at its South Carolina facility. The team began joining large fuselage sections of the newest 787 Nov. 22 on schedule, a proud milestone for the South Carolina team and a...
 
 
Lockheed Martin image

Ball Aerospace equips Orion mission with key avionics, antenna hardware

Lockheed Martin image Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. is providing the phased array antennas and flight test cameras to prime contractor Lockheed Martin for Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which is an u...
 
 

Salina, Kansas, recalls anniversary of shuttered base

It has been 50 years this month since the announcement that Schilling Air Force Base was closing rattled Salina residents. The Salina Journal, which carried news of the closure in its Nov. 19, 1964, editions, reported that the economic disaster then spared no part of the community – real estate, retail, civic involvement, church attendance,...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>