After more than 50 years, a Silver Star for U-2 pilot Gary Powers
Francis Gary Powers, when he returned to the United States in 1962 after two years in Soviet custody, was derided by some for being alive at all.
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — More than 50 years after his plane was downed in the Soviet Union, Francis Gary Powers was posthumously awarded the military's third-highest decoration Friday.
Powers, the U-2 spy-plane pilot whose story captured national attention during the Cold War, was awarded a Silver Star from the Air Force in a ceremony at the Pentagon.
After his plane was downed in 1960, Powers was subjected to 107 days of interrogation, followed by a public trial in Moscow. He was imprisoned for more than two years.
When he returned to the United States in 1962, he was derided by some for being alive at all. There was widespread speculation that he had caved under pressure from his captors. In The New York Times shortly after his release, Powers was described as "not a superhero but a normal unsophisticated young man" who was an "extremely cooperative witness for the Russians."
On Thursday, Powers' daughter, Dee Powers, recalled that one of her teachers once "told the entire class that my father should have killed himself."
"That was very traumatic for me," Powers said.
The second draft of history, as reflected in the Air Force citation accompanying Powers' Silver Star, reads a bit differently. Powers "was interrogated, harassed, and endured unmentionable hardships on a continuous basis by numerous top Soviet Secret Police interrogating teams," the citation reads, while "resisting all Soviet efforts through cajolery, trickery and threats of death." He exhibited "indomitable spirit, exceptional loyalty, and continuous heroic actions."
The fuzzy bits of Powers' story were clarified in 1998, when the CIA declassified many details of its Cold War-era U-2 spy-plane program. In 2000, Powers was posthumously awarded a POW Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a CIA Director's Medal.
Affected by the public ire directed at him, Powers moved to California and took a job flying a traffic helicopter for a Los Angeles radio station.
On Aug. 1, 1977, the helicopter he was piloting ran out of fuel and crashed near a Little League field in Encino, Calif. Powers, 47, died.
Now, with the Silver Star, members of Powers' family say they have found a sense of resolution. "It's never too late to set the record straight," his son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., said.