An American Legend: The U-2 Incident

Gary Powers Jr. Details His Father and The Cold War

Taking refuge from the light drizzle outside, a sizeable crowd filed into the Tine and Eunice Davis Learning Center & Auditorium (DLC). There was a great variety of people in said crowd: countless veterans, their families, and the average student here or there. Comradery and joint stories from years gone by were abound. However, all fell silent in quiet reverence when the presentation’s host, Francis Gary Powers Jr., was introduced. 

Powers Jr. is the well-renowned author of “Spy Pilot,” a book that details the U-2 Incident that took place during the Cold War. For a brief overview, this incident involved a United States spy plane, the Lockheed U-2, being shot down over the Soviet Union, with the pilot then being imprisoned by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret police. The controversy forced President Eisenhower to reveal the existence of not only the U-2 espionage missions, but the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

While the government was on blast, a lawyer named James B. Donovan was tasked with negotiating the release of the captive pilot. The affair ended with the exchange of Rudolf Abel–a Soviet spy convicted and held in the United States–for the U-2 pilot. Besides Powers’ book, this story was dramatized by Steven Spielberg in the 2015 box office hit, “Bridge of Spies.”

As it happens, the presenter’s father was Francis Gary Powers Sr., the U-2 pilot in question. During his presentation, Powers Jr. walked the audience through the events of the U-2 Incident while explaining his motives for writing “Spy Pilot.” According to him, he and his family wanted to dispel the misinformation surrounding the incident and his father. He revealed that most of the American populous believed his father to be a traitor based off of bad information from the powers that were. 

On the contrary, his father held fast and lied to the brutal KGB agents that grilled him with questions day after day. He was also certain to not reveal anything in his letters to his family, which Powers Jr. compiled along with his late father’s journal in a book entitled “Letters From a Soviet Prison.” Powers Jr.’s efforts did more than just dispel misinformation; he managed to get his father awarded many honors posthumously, including the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. 

Following his presentation, Powers Jr. opened the floor for a Question and Answer session. When asked if his father was tortured while imprisoned, he said, “There was no physical torture during his interrogations…Dad was a too high-profile prisoner…[the Soviets] wanted to show how well they took care of captured spies.” 

He then explored what became of the U-2 missions after his father was shot down: “All of the U-2 pilots went back home with their families, the planes, the equipment, the support crew; they got back to the United States as quickly as they could…Eisenhower basically promised or pledged that there would be no U-2 flights over the Soviet Union again…the U-2 pilots that were overseas ended up coming back to…Edwards Air Force Base where they were stationed.”

He was then asked about the Soviet spy who was exchanged for his father, which he responded to with the following story: “Colonel Rudolf Abel…was a cloak-and-dagger type spy…his cover was a photographer and artist…he was captured around [1955 and 1956] in the ‘Hollow Nickel Case’.”  

Powers Jr. intends to continue giving presentations relating to his father, the U-2 Incident, and the Cold War.

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