Francis Gary Powers, Jr., Interview – The Cold War Museum
I started giving presentations to local high schools. I’d walk in and get blank stares. The kids thought I was there to talk about U2 the rock band.
On May 1, 1960, an American pilot named Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union while he was taking intelligence photographs from a U-2 spy plane. It was one of the most famous incidents of the Cold War. In 1996, his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., founded The Cold War Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, to preserve the memory of veterans of the Cold War. At the museum’s Web site visitors can see a timeline of the Cold War, read Cold War stories, play a trivia game, and learn about traveling exhibits.
On October 24, 2008, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., granted an exclusive interview to ArmchairGeneral.com about growing up as the son of Francis Gary Powers, and The Cold War Museum.
ArmchairGeneral.com: When you were growing up, you must have been in some classes in which the U-2 incident was studied. What was that like, hearing your father being studied as a part of history?
Francis Gary Powers, Jr.: We talked about it over the dinner table at home, but I thought that was normal, that everybody’s father did something like that. It wasn’t until Dad died and I saw all the news coverage that I really became aware.
In grade school, my father came in and gave a presentation. I thought it was neat, but as a six-year-old child I didn’t really understand why he was there. In later years—seventh or eighth grade—my teacher didn’t cover the subject at all because she didn’t know how I would react since my dad had just died a couple of years earlier.
My curiosity about my father started in college. Some students asked about him, but I didn’t understand why. My peers knew something about my family, but I didn’t know anything about theirs. I was introverted, but in college I came out of my shell and began researching the incident and my father.
ACG: You were born five years after your father was shot down over Russia. In what ways do you think his experience affected his life, and how has it affected yours?
FGPJ: He was shot down May 1, 1960, and released Feb. 10, 1962. He met my mom in CIA headquarters. He was going through a divorce. Mom administered tests to agents returning from abroad, which would then be passed on to the CIA doctors to make sure the agents hadn’t been turned. She gave the test to him. Later, they ran into each other coming around a corner in the building. One of them spilled coffee on the other and that led to "Let me buy you another cup of coffee," which led to "Let’s have lunch," which led to "Let’s have dinner," which led to romance.
They got married in November 1962, and I was born June 5, 1965.
ACG: I suspect a lot of people don’t realize your father became a journalist and that he died in a news-helicopter crash when you were 12. What do you remember about him as a journalist?
[continued on next page]