Twelve-year-old Francis Gary Powers Jr. lost his dad, a reporter for KNBC-TV, in a helicopter crash in 1977. His dad was Francis Gary Powers, the Air Force pilot whose U-2 plane was shot down over Russia on May 1, 1960.
He spent 18 months in a Russian prison before being released in exchange for Russian spy Rudolf Abel on a bridge between East and West Germany. Many articles, books, and two films have focused on the “famous” U-2 incident.
Now Francis Gary Powers Jr. has published an account of his father’s life, “Spy Pilot: Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 Incident and a Controversial Cold War Legacy.” Gary will speak and sign copies of his book at 2p.m. on June 9 at the Cold War Museum at Vint Hill.
The CIA and the U.S. government exonerated the elder Powers of any wrongdoing while being held in a Soviet prison. Despite that, Powers found that a cloud hung over his reputation for the rest of his life, his son said, and he was not awarded the medals usually given in such circumstances.
This was the era of the Cold War, and people questioned whether he was – or was not – a traitor to his country. Had he talked? Had he divulged top secret information?
Gary Powers knew his dad, knew his character, and spent much of his adolescence defending his father and wanting to learn more about what really happened.
The younger Powers spent years researching files previously unavailable, including Powers’ debriefing by the CIA. He traveled to the Soviet Union and then Russia; listened to old audio tapes, talked with people who knew his dad, and who were part of the U-2 program.
“The result is a fascinating book set in this unique period in American history -- a definitive account proving that Francis Gary Powers acted honorably in his service to his country,” according to a Cold War Museum news release.
In 1996, Gary Powers Jr. founded The Cold War Museum, a 501(c)(3) charity located at Vint Hill. “The museum honors Cold War veterans and preserves and educates future generations about this era in America’s history,” according to a news release. As chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Cold War Theme Study, Powers works with the National Park Service and leading Cold War experts to identify historic Cold War sites in order to commemorate, interpret, and ensure their preservation.
In 2014, Powers worked as a consultant on Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller, “Bridge of Spies,” which focused on attorney James Donovan who brokered the 1962 spy exchange between CIA U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and KGB spy Rudolph Abel.