Francis Gary Powers Junior

U2 plane pilot awarded posthumously

U2 Plane Pilot Awarded Posthumously

Download audio file  13 June 2012, 09:51

You are listening to an interview with Francis Gary Powers Junior – the founder of the Cold War Museum and the son of the pilot whose U2 Plane was shot down in 1960 over the Soviet Union.

Hello, Mr. Powers! How are you today?

I’m doing well, thank you. How are you?

I’m fine. Thanks for agreeing to speak with me again. On June 15, at 9:30 a.m. at a ceremony in the Pentagon you farther will posthumously receive the Silver Star. Why has it taken so long for your father to be recognized in such a manner?

Yes, that is correct, he will be receiving the Silver Star on June 15th . Nothing could have been done up to 1998, it was still a secret. In the summer of 1998 there was a big classification conference that showed it was a joined US Air Force-CIA Program that conducted the U2 over flight. So, in 1998 it was discovered and he was a military person at that time, that set up an award ceremony for May of 2000 in which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the POW Medal. So, at that time that’s all we thought was happening.

Ten years go by and in late December of 2010 I’m reading an article about two other pilots who received the Silver Star for being shot down on July 1st of 1960 and then incarcerated in Lubyanka Prison the same time period that my father was. So, in January of 2011 I wrote a letter to the Pentagon asking if this sets precedents for anything for my father. And then about 11 months later, in December of 2011 the Air Force comes back and says – yes, it does set precedents and that he will be awarded with the Silver Star some time in 2012. So, in actuality it only took less than a year, from the time I first wrote the letter of inquiry to I get a decision that he was worthy of this medal. We are all very excited.

You didn’t have to struggle, I mean it wasn’t years and years of battling to clear his name and everything?

No, I started trying to help clear his name back in 1996-1998. And then the classification conference in 1998 really helped to push things forward but I didn’t know that it was possible for him to receive the Silver Star until I wrote a letter in January of 2011. It took only about a year for the Air Force to act on this and update the records, and to embrace him as one of their own.

How did you feel when you learned about that?

We were very excited. My wife, my child, my family and all were very excited, very honoured, very humbled. It is a wonderful distinction to know that the Air Force fully embraces what my father went through indeed for our country back 50 years ago.

Who decided or did the Air Force decide to give the award to your father’s grandchildren, you children?

No, they asked the family who would like to receive it on behalf of the family. And there was just no doubt that it should be given to the grandchildren, for both of my sister and myself.

We talked before that your father was suspected of cooperating with the Soviets and I know you went through some hardships in the past because of that. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, at that time there was a lot of controversy and inventions, and speculation and rumors that were floating around 1960-1962 when he was in prison. There were rumors that he had distracted, that abandoned the plane in attack, that he spilled his guts and told the Soviets everything he knew, or that he haven’t followed the orders to committee a suicide. And all of this misinformation, these inventions and rumors have been cleared up over the last fifty years and it’s now shown that he did everything he was supposed to do under the circumstances he found himself in.

So, he had orders to commit a suicide?

No, he did not have orders to commit a suicide. It is one of the misinformation that still circulates around. All the pilots were given the option of taking a suicide type device with them. It was explained to them that this was an optional device to take and an optional device to use at their discretion in the event of torture. My father wasn’t tortured during his capture, he did not feel that he should have used it. It was also discovered on him after the third strip search. Once it was discovered he said to be very careful with that, he did not want to have a murder conviction on top of the espionage conviction.

You said he wasn’t tortured.

There was no physical torture at all but there was a lot of mental anguish, sleep deprivation, bright spotlights, grueling questions, so it was not a cakewalk by any means.

I know maybe this might not be completely proper comparison to make, but can you compare that with what terrorists suspects are being put through now in Guantanamo etc. Do you think the rules of war used back in those days were more civilized than what we are doing now?

My parents raised me to believe that a torture was the last resort and that America did not participated in those type of activities. Throughout the Cold War that was true, to the most part, we used to use some of our allies in other countries to do that type of work in getting the information from them. Now America is doing the waterboarding and other questioning legal techniques. I’m very troubled by what they are doing and hope that it is for the best and security of our country versus just some whim that it will come back to haunt them in the future.

Would you say that some of these terrorist suspects now are being treated much more harshly than your father was?

Yes, I do believe they are. I’m not privy to what type of interrogations they are going through but I’m assuming they are much worse than what my father went through.

We talked several times before. I remember doing the Chapman exchange. What do you think about modern days spy exchanges?

In regards to spy exchanges, they will continue to take place. It is always advantageous for foreign governments to get back their agents, their operatives, their pilots, their personnel so they can be debriefed and then they can determine if they provide any insight into what the enemy does, how it acts, what the plans are. So, I believe that the spy exchanges will continue to go on as long as there is espionage and I don’t believe that it will end any time soon.

Recently there’s been a lot of spy activity by the US. What would you say about the level of espionage activity going now as opposed to Cold War times? In my opinion it is very high? Why do you think it is so high?

Well, this is a completely different world we live in now. During the Cold War we knew who our enemy was and where they were located. Today the war on terror, the terrorists that are conducting these subversive attacks, we are not always sure where they are located, we are not sure which countries are involved. And so the amount of intelligence gathering has increased to try to find out and pinpoint the headquarters of these terrorist cells. So, it is a much different world we live in and more intelligence is necessary to find out where these operatives and these terrorists are hiding.

Thank you very much, Sir. That was an interview with Francis Gary Powers Junior – the founder of the Cold War Museum and the son of the famous U2pilot whose plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Thank for listening.


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