Interview with Francis Gary Powers Junior, the son of the American pilot whose CIA U-2 plane was shot down while flying over the Soviet Union. He’s also the founder of the Cold War Museum.
It’s coming up on the 50-year anniversary. What can you say about theories that your father’s plane may have been shot down or may have been sabotaged over the U.S.S.R.?
On May 1 st 1960 my father was shot down over the former Soviet Union while flying his U-2 spy plane. At the time of the shoot down there were a lot of rumors, and speculation, and mis-information, and theories to what caused the shoot down. There were reports that it was sabotage and a Norwegian spy had planted a bomb in the tail section of the aircraft. There were rumors that it was the CIA, of the American government that sabotaged the mission intenti on ally, to sabotage the summit conference that was planned for May 16 th of that year and there has even been some speculation that it was a UFO encounter that brought down the U-2.
How did the shooting down of your father’s plane affect the summit that was supposed to have taken place?
As a result of the U-2 incident when my father was shot down on May 1 st it basically collapsed the summit talks of May 16 th . Khrushchev was very upset at President Eisenhower, for authorizing these over-flights, who he had invited over to the Soviet Union later that year and so Khrushchev demanded an Eisenhower apology and a stop to the U-2 flights. Eisenhower refused to apologize but he did stop the flights over the Soviet Union. As a result the Paris summit conference convenes May 16 th, the heads of states DeGaulle, Eisenhower, Khrushchev are there. Khrushchev again asks for Eisenhower to apologize, Eisenhower refuses, Khrushchev gets up and storms out and the summit conference collapses.
Have all the details regarding your father’s mission been declassified yet?
For the most part, yes, there is still some classified information pertaining to the type of equipment that was on board and some of the specifications of the airplane itself. But as far as the altitude that was declassified in 1998 at the declassification conference by the CIA and the air force and the altitude that my father was flying at May 1 st was 70,500 feet.
There were reports that your father, in 1977, had said that there may have been a bomb on his plane. Do you remember that? I think you were 12 years old at the time.
That’s correct. I was 12 years old when my father passed away in 1977. I have heard about this radio show where my father supposedly mentioned that there was a bomb on the plane. I have yet to hear the actual broadcast. It goes contrary to everything my father has always said and what he has written about. He always maintained that he was at maximum altitude at 68,000 feet, but we now know that it was actually 70,500 feet. And at that altitude that he was flying is when the SA-2 missile exploded near enough to the tail section to cause structural failure, so this is what my father reported to his superiors when he was brought home and debriefed. I have never read anywhere that he believed there was a bomb on board. I have read that others have believed a bomb was on board.
You are the founder of the Cold War Museum. Can you tell listeners a little bit about what they could see if the visit your museum?
Sure. The Cold War Museum was founded in 1996 to honor Cold War veterans and to preserve Cold War history, the international aspects of this 45 year period. There you can see items from civil defense, from the "duck and cover" drills, that our two countries participated in and went through to protect their citizens, you can see items from the U.S.S. liberty, the U.S.S. Pueblo, the U-2 incident, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other artifacts of that era. There is some artwork, there are some personal letters that Cold War veterans have written, there are a variety of panels on various events that shaped the Cold War. There is a very small portion of the material in the actual museum, most of it is still in storage adjacent to the facility and we are processing those artifacts now.
Back to… I asked you had everything been de-classified, is there anything you, yourself, any questions you have that you would like answered about what happened with your father?
There is one bit of information that I would like to find out and that is the connection with Oswald. It seems that Lee Harvey Oswald was a radar operator in Japan where the U-2s were stationed. He defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, my father is shot down in May of 1960. There is speculation that he gave the Soviets information that allowed them to pinpoint the altitude that the U-2s were flying. So far I’ve never found any physical evidence that confirms this. But that it… I would like to confirm one way or the other, if he did give that information to the Soviets.
So, what he could have given would be altitude information?
Primarily altitude and frequencies to monitor the plane’s flight recording.
What can you tell our listeners…anything that they may not have heard before about the exchange that took place on the bridge?
Rudolph Abel and my father were exchanged at the Glienicker Bridge in Potsdam, Germany on February 10 th 1962. It’s a cold dark foggy morning. Right out of a John Le’Carre novel; “There are guards on the bridge with guns. There are petrol boats in the water underneath. There are German Shepherds going back and forth. It’s a closed bridge separating East and West. The two man are on the eat side of the bridge with their respective delegations of KGB and CIA agents, the two men are positively identified and they walk home to their respective freedoms. Not only did my father and Rudolph Abel get exchanged, but also, there was Frederic Pryor, who was also exchanged at the same time at checkpoint Charlie and that’s not that well-known though it is documented. He was a student doing research and they put him in a Stasi prison cell for a few years. So, he was able to be released at the same time.
Anything else you would like to tell our listeners on the 50 th anniversary of the exchange?
It’s been 50 years since my father returned home and the Powers family is very honored to have learned recently that my dad will be awarded the silver star this year by the U.S. air force for his courageousness during this time period. It took 50 years for the American government to help get the records straight and we are very honored and very humbled that they’ve done this.