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You are here -> HOME - RETROVILLE - 1960 - In the News -Francis Gary Powers U2 Spyplane
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Welcome to Retroville! It's 1960!
On May 1, 1960, while flying an experimental survellience plane, the U2, Pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Russian soil. The incident sparked one of the biggest international crises of the Cold War.

The United States demanded the immediate, safe return of the American flyer. The Soviets refused to release Powers and demanded an explanation for his invasion of their airspace.

Powers was held in a Soviet prison for two years until 1962 when he was exchanged for Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel in the most dramatic East-West spy exchange of the Cold War. Powers stepped onto the eastern end of the Glienicke Bridge over the RIver Havel in Berlin on February 10, 1962. At the other end of the bridge the United States released Colonel Abel and he marched past Powers to the waiting Soviets.

Powers was criticized by the Central Intelligence Agency (his employer) for failing to fully destroy the aircraft at the time of the crash.

Powers lived in relative obscurity until his death in 1977 at the age of 47 when the television news helicopter he was piloting crashed outside Los Angeles.

On May 1, 2000, U.S. officials presented Powers' family with the Prisoner-of-War Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the National Defense Service Medal during a 30-minute ceremony held at Beale Air Force Base, north of Sacramento. Beale is home to the modern U2 spyplane squadron. The ceremony marked the 40th anniversary of the incident.

"The mind still boggles at what we asked this gentleman and his teammates to do back in the late 1950s -- to literally fly over downtown Moscow... -- alone, unarmed and unafraid,"
Brigadier General Kevin Chilton, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Commander, told the 350 people gathered at Beale Air Force Base.

CIA and Air Force officials presented the awards, something the pilot's son Francis Gary Powers, Jr., saw as an important step in recognizing those who served their country during the Cold War.

"We wanted to make sure that my father was honored with the medals he deserved for being a prisoner of war," said Powers, who arrived at the ceremony straight from a three-hour flight in a U2 plane. "It took a little bit of letter writing and a couple of people to help us, but today that's been done."

The ceremony ended with a fly-by of a lone U2 plane.

Powers, Jr., 34, has devoted much of his time to seeing his father's memory honored, and is working to establish a permanent Cold War Museum in Washington D.C. to educate the public about the men and women who worked on behalf of the US throughout the Cold War decades.

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