tv Letters from a Soviet Prison CSPAN July 1, 2018 10:31pm-11:37pm EDT
>> next, francis gary powers junior talks about his father, cia pilot gary powers, and his experience being held after his flight plane was shot down over the former soviet union in 1960. the 65 minute lecture is titled "letters from a soviet prison." a son search for the truth. >> francis gary powers junior is the son of gary and claudia powers. he holds a bachelor degree of philosophy from los angeles and a masters degree in public administration from our own george mason university in virginia. he is the founder and chairman of the cold war museum located just 45 minutes west of washington dc. he founded the museum in 1996 to honor cold war veterans, preserve cold war history and
educate future generations about this period in our history. as chairman of the advisory committee, he works with the park service to identify historic cold war sites for commemoration, interpretation and preservation. or -- fore consulted steven spielberg's cold war thriller "rigid spies." about gary's father, francis gary powers senior. or -- for steven spielberg's cold war thriller because of his effort to establish the cold war museum, the junior chamber of commerce selected gary is one of the 10 outstanding and americans. -- outstanding americans in 2002. gary lectures international appears regularly on history channel discovery. it is really a thrill to have him with us. please join me in welcoming gary powers.
[applause] >> thank you very much warm welcome. thanks for the introduction. and to the virginia society for having me out on this anniversary date, the 50th -- 58th anniversary of the shootdown of the u2. so it's an honor to be here today. i would like to thank you all for coming out here me talk about this book, "letters from a soviet prison." to start, i'm going to talk about this movie that some people have seen and some people probably haven't. who has seen this movie? looks like about half. for those of you who have not seen it, you don't have to worry, i'm not going to give away the ending. [laughter] we all know dad gets exchange for soviet spy at the glenn hegar bridge on february 10, 1962 in germany. i'm very glad dad walked across that bridge.
if he didn't, i wouldn't be here. for me him walking across that bridge led to my existence. when i found out about this movie, bridge of spies, and i found spielberg was going to do this movie, i was thinking, why would he do this? he has no reason to do this movie that would betray my -- that would portray my father. in july of 2014i get -- i got confirmation that spielberg, of all people, was going to do this movie. my first thought was, how do i get in touch with steven spielberg? you just can't pick up the phone. hey steve! everybody wants a piece of him. everybody wants to pitch some hollywood thriller to him. so i try to reach out to friends in hollywood, got a dead-end. i resorted to google. i typed in his name, his movies name, found people who worked with him. typed in their names.
found their email addresses is. so i sent an unsolicited email to them for you to -- email to them. i basically said the following. "i understand steven spielberg is interested in doing a movie that will portray my father. we would like to establish to express contact concerns. if they base it off of the declassified information, they would be painting him the hero to our country. if other information was used they would be painting him in a negative light. it was important to reach out and establish contact. i was able to get a call back as a result of email from mark -- my email from mark platt. mark platt was a producer on this film. he is better known for his production of wicked on broadway. very well respected in the industry.
mark and i talked for about an hour on july 15, 2014. at the end of the conversation i think he liked what i have to say. he offered to hire me on as a technical consultant. so i said i would love to do this. i got the contract in the mail. boil or plate. my father talking about its experiences so it can listen firsthand what he had gone through paid i had a go on set, as required, to go on set and be best and consult as necessary. at the end of the contract, it says they don't have to listen to me. the very last sentence, if i don't like the end result, i can't sue. oh boy. tie my hands come use the family's name and do whatever they want. so i thought hard about whether i should sign on to this or not. at the end of the day i did sign the bottom line. i am very glad i did. the powers family really likes
the movie. it is historically accurate in the big picture. the themes of this movie, the cold war, the duck and cover drills that many of us went through, the fear and the tensions between the soviet and the americans during this time period are very well portrayed. what happened to east germans trying to escape over the wall being shot, very accurately portrayed. the big picture is historically accurate. but in the first lines of the movie are "inspired by historic events." inspired. does not mean documentary. so you have to remember this is hollywood, they embellish, they do dramatic effect, they do artistic liberties. so while the big picture is historically accurate, the details are not 100% accurate. please keep that in mind when you are watching this movie or any movie from hollywood, even if it's based on true events, the details are probably not
100% accurate. to start today's presentation i'm going to show a quick 2.5 minute clip to set the stage for today's topic. >> you have been selected for a mission which you are not to discuss outside of anyone in this room. with anyone. we are engaged in a war. it involves information. >> there's a wrinkle. [indiscernible]
>> i'm a church lawyer. what you doing? you should be careful. i'm talking to you about the security of your country. >> you are asking me to violate the constitution. >> everyone deserves a defense. every person matters. >> tell me you are not going to be in any danger. i don't even care if it's the truth. >> we need to have the conversation our governments can't.
nobody is safe. that's a makes us americans should we show our enemies who we are? things started falling apart. >> do we need to worry about you? >> we don't know what the game is. >> could be the last one. >> when i was going up in southern california, i was aware that my father had been shot down over the soviet union. imprisoned by the kgb and ultimately exchanged for soviet spy. but as a kid growing up in this
family this was fairly normal. my perception as a young kid was that everybody's dad had been through something like this. [laughter] that perception changed on august 1, 1977. when my father was killed in a helicopter crash while working for nbc television in los angeles. i was 12 years old at the time. i come home to a household of people. they informed my mom and i of the bad news. our lives were turned upside down. i became introverted. don't understand why the press called the house to ask questions. why friends at school would tell me something about my dad. all of a sudden these peers at school would know something about me and my family, but i wouldn't know anything about them and their family. this was an adjustment i went through after the loss of my father. throughout high school i would introduce myself as gary, that we wouldn't have to answer that
it never double question. i was trying to figure out who dad was, who i was. i was morning. -- mourning. in college i came out of my shell. i was curious, wanting to find out more about my father, so i knew how to answer questions. so i started to do research. when i started my research, i do and started to vindicate my dad, i started to find out the truth so i would know how to answer these questions. sometimes i didn't know the answers. so this is what started me on this journey, to find out as much as i could about my father. the first person i went to in college after going to the library and seeing him on the cover of time magazine and other publications of the era, i talked to my mom, i talked to her extensively, i talked my sister, then i
talked my aunt's and uncles, trying to find out as much as i could about my dad. the more he learned from family, the more questions there were. i realized i need so first -- needed to first understand more about the cold war to learn about my father. that is where my research led. started talking with cia officials, air force officials, people who flew with my father during the time period, trying to find out as much as i could about what took place on may 1, 1960. more learned more questions there were. i realized i had to understand more about the cold war to understand the u-2 incident. that's where my research led. started talking to world war ii veterans, reading as much as i could on the end of world war ii, which happens to correspond with the origins of the cold war. the pot stem agreement, the marshall plan, the berlin airlift, these origins of the cold war, the events that shaped this 46 year time period
through december of 1991, when the soviet union collapsed. as part of this research, i started collecting items from family members. i was fortunate to find my dad's letters that he wrote to and from his loved ones while incarcerated. so i started to data enter these letters in. goingas about 1996 through graduate school. in my spare time i would be at home and start to and to these these letterse in. eventually i want to have them published so there was a historical record of what he wrote, he thought he did in prison -- of what he wrote he thought he did in prison. in order to help squelch the conspiracy theories and the rumors, how could someone argue with his written word, he was not lying to himself in prison when he was running down his -- writing down his thoughts and feelings. he was trying to remember the sequence of events, he was trying to remember what took
place in the trial, in the interrogations, and the recollections he was having. i start collecting these letters and artifacts. from my research, the story i'm going to tell you is basically from what my father told me, what i read about his book, from what i read about other books over the last 25 plus years. even some of the rumors and speculation circulated around. -- that circulated around. with my father and the may 1 mission, you have to understand his mindset in order to understand the mission. dad was a pilot. this is all he ever wanted to do, fly a plane. his first plane ride was at a country fair, when he was 12 years old. at about 1931. at that time he remarks to some of his sisters, i left my heart up there. he wanted to be a pilot.
in 1950, after graduating from milligan college in tennessee, my father enlisted in the air force against his father's wishes. his dad, my grandfather wanted my father to be a doctor. they were paid well. there was one part in the letters. that they were not worried about the dollars that came in, they were worried about the neck -- about the next nickel that came in. again, this is the depression era. so my father enlists in the u.s. air force, 1950. 84's outined to fly f of turner georgia down south. he's down there about three years and four years , flying f 84's. 1955, he starts to be recruited by the cia to fly the new top-secret u-2 spy plane.
he resigns from the air force, he takes a civilian job. he takes a job with the cia to fly top-secret u-2 spy planes over foreign countries overseas. by 1955 this was top-secret, no one had ever heard of this plane. it was developed by the cia to do overhead reconnaissance. it was specifically designed by kelly johnson. he designs the plane. the general of the air force and the cia are trying to figure out who's going to control it. eisenhower wanted to be run by -- wanted it to be run by the cia. his rationale was the following, it is a military plane with a military pilot flying over a foreign hostile country. that would be considered an act of war. but if it's a civilian pilot and civilian plane flying over a foreign hostile country, it would be espionage, a slap on
the wrist. so cia has control of this program, they scour the air force to try and find fighter pilots that can do these missions. he starts to fly in 1956. to the left of the stage or were right -- your right, have one of the evils. this particular photo is of baghdad, the presidential palace. that was one of the targets of this particular mission on november 6, 1956. the other image is his flight map. it details the route he took on this first mission that penetrated soviet airspace. my father is recruited by the cia in 1955, he is trained at area 51 in the nevada desert, he starts to serve in turkey near a
donna. for the next 4.5 years he's flying these flights over the former soviet union and other countries, such as india, pakistan, middle eastern countries, eastern european countries, the soviet union, as well as china. it is not just the soviet union he is flying over, but other countries as needed. there are 24 pilots stationed all around the former soviet union. some in japan, some in the u.k.. some in turkey, some back home in the united states. so my father, after 4.5 years of all around the former soviet missions, my father has flown 27 successful missions. at this time he is one of the most experienced pilots. the most number of hours in the aircraft. he is selected to fly on the may 1 mission. this mission is going to fly across the entire width of the
former soviet union from pakistan to buddha norway above the narc -- above the arctic circle. a nine hour flight. my father is selected to do this mission. he wakes up may 1 very early puts on his flight suit, looks , at the orders and targets, is authorized to go. he takes off at about 6:00 a.m., he crosses over the former soviet union's border at approximately 68,000 feet. he starts to flip on and off the camera switches that will take photographic imagery of the ground below. he is four hours into his mission at an altitude of 75,000 feet. over the central part of the soviet union. there is a bright orange flash that lights up the exterior of the canopy. a shock wave pushes the plane forward, throws my dad back in the seat.
my dad realizes something has gone wrong but the controls no longer respond. you can't fly a plane without a tail section. the near miss of a missile has -- soviet missile has exploded near the tail sweat -- tail section to cause structural failure. as a result the nose pitches forward the wings snap off and , my father finds himself spending down towards the ground -- spinning down towards the ground. he falls from 75,000 hundred feet to approximately 38,000 feet before bailing out of the airplane. he does not use the ejection seat if he did he would have severed his legs on the way out. the u-2 cockpit is small, tight, and compact. in order to eject uke -- eject, you have to be in the perfect position, otherwise you can lose a limb. realizing this my father does the following. my father opens up the canopy, which floats off into space, he
undoes his harness, and is immediately sucked up halfway up the cockpit. he is still connected by his air hose. he is half in the cockpit, half out of the cockpit, spinning down towards the ground, can no longer reach the distrust button. -- destruct button on the dashboard of the cockpit. he realizes he is getting closer and closer to the ground. force,ks free of the air he falls from the airplane, his or should automatically 15,000 feet, he parachutes down to the ground. that's what i read in his letters. i want to compare to how spielberg did it in his movie. so took his artistic genius to .ake it that much more dramatic to keep the audience at the edge of his seat. when the shootdown sequence in the movie bridge of spies, my father is flying along at 70,000 feet. he sees two missiles flying up the side of the plane.
dad never saw those missiles. the third missile of the movie explodes behind this tail section, pushes the plane forward. the engine fails the plane is in , a nosedive. the wings stay on. it is gaining speed. the canopy is starting to crack. it is building dramatic effect. my father's thinking about the destruct button. he thinks about getting out of the plane first. he undoes his harness, and then the canopy shatters and he is sucked out of the plane. in the movie he is connected by the air force but it is 10 feet of air hose. crawl hand in hand over the cockpit. he tries to reach the destruct button. the air hose breaks.
he parachutes down to the ground. just a little comparison to what actually happened versus how one depicted it in hollywood. so after that he is parachuting down to the ground, he is noticing trees, lakes in the distance. city beneath him. the closer he gets to the ground, the more he sees the dark car following his dissent. he lands on the outskirts of a collective farm, the farmers kids andhe fields, parents, helping him with his backpack, his parachute starting to ask questions in russian. dad doesn't speak russian. this makes one of the farmers a little nervous. who is this guy? holds a pitchfork up near him. moments later they communicate, "usa."
toledo he is an american. if you more moments go by, the black car shows up, two men get out, put him in the back seat, taken to a whole new area of the central part of town. he is asked to some basic questions by someone who speaks broken english. who are you? what you doing here? where do you come from? to which my dad would reply my name is gary powers, i am lost, i had a mechanical malfunction. can you take me to the american embassy? no, that's not permitted. can you take me to the red cross? >> no -- no, that's not permitted. that is how his capture commenced. he was put in the back seat of an airplane, armed guard takes him to moscow airport. the shuttle to him over from lubyanka prison. the infamous kgb prison, part of
the kgb headquarters downtown moscow. this is where my father finds himself. his first night of captivity on may 1 of 1960. for the next five days the soviets say nothing about the shootdown. but at home in washington dc president eisenhower, allen dulles, state apartment officials and air force officials are meeting to try to find out where is the plane, where is the pilot, why didn't it land in norway, where it should have landed had it been a successful mission? so far the american government, the analysts of the cia have not been able to determine the fate and flight of the plane. khrushchev comes up center stage in the press conference. our comrades, we are shot down an american spy plane. he makes noy
reference to the pilots fate. the cia with the president and their administration, saying that if they had the pilot alive that crew chef would have paraded it out around as evidence. as a result the administration under eisenhower authorizes a cover story to be implemented that basically says the following, and unarmed research plane may have accidentally strayed across the border after the pilot had radioed trouble with his auction equipment. once the cover story was in place, two days go by. khrushchev goes back to center stage. this is may 7. he gleefully announces the world his next press conference. our comrades, not only did we shut -- shoot down the plane, but we captured the pilot come -- who is quite alive and kicking, and has confessed to spying with the cia. i want to take you back 58 years. in very few people had heard of
1960, the cia. top-secret government agency created in 1947 as part of the national security act to safeguard americans at home by gathering intelligence information from abroad. it was a big embarrassment for eisenhower, world war ii hero, beloved statesman to have to admit that we had a spy agency and that we had been flying over these foreign hostile countries over the last four years. eisenhower takes full responsibility for his actions. he could have allowed allen dulles to be a scapegoat, tape -- take the fall. but eisenhower realized that if he did that than public -- then public opinion would probably be or probably think that he is -- as president was not in control of his own country. eisenhower steps up to the plate, holds a press conference, and he calls this a vital but
distasteful necessity in order to avert another pearl harbor. while this is unfolding khrushchev is furious. , he is demanding an apology to the u-2 flight. at a stop to the u-2 flights over the soviet union. eisenhower refuses to apologize, but does stop the flight over the former soviet union. eisenhower authorized each and every u-2 flight. he admitted and acknowledged this when he was at his press conference taking full response abilities for his actions. while all this is unfolding dad , has been stuck in a russian prison cell. going to the first week of interrogations. grueling questions, threats of death. no physical torture, a lot of mental anguish, mental torture. anxiety. some of you might be familiar with good cop bad cop.
one kgb agent would come in yelling and screaming, you, tell us everything or we will shoot you tomorrow. the next guy would come in, mr. powers, you help us, we can help you, trying to get him to cooperate. trying to get him to reveal secrets. most likely by any means necessary, short of physical abuse. during the first seven days of my dad interrogation at the prison, he was lying to his captors out right. holding back as much information as possible. misleading them anyway he could. on may 7, international headlines around the world, u-2 shut down, summit conference in jeopardy, the type of headlines that were being printed. the kgb guard in charge of the interrogation, a copy of the new york times in his hands, rushes into the cell room, shoves the
newspaper and my dad's room and yells at him, you like to ask, -- you lied to us, you told us you were trained in the arizona. the new york times says you were trained in nevada at area 51. you might as well tell us everything. we will get it out of your american press anyways. [laughter] dad is stuck between a rock and a hard place. if he tells the full truth he is giving away secrets. if he lies, he could get shot and face a debt penalty for espionage. -- a death penalty for espionage. he resorts to the following during history month of solitary -- during his three months of solitary confinement. he tells the full truth when he knows they can verify the information in the press. he lies to them outright when he knows that is no way they can find out the answers. names of pilots, numbers of missions, specification about the equipment on board.
then he gives a part truth, part why and dances around the subject when he knows that they know something about the question they are asking but not enough to contradict his answer. such as the altitude he was flying. my father always maintained he was at the maximum altitude of 68,000 feet when he was shot down. he did this for two reasons. first, close enough to be believable, yet hard enough away -- yet far enough away to keep other pilots out of harm's way should the mission continue. my father thought that if he could convince the soviets to expose their warheads at 68,000 altitude,maximum there would be a 2000 to 7000 foot romper between where the planes were flying and where the missiles would explode. the second reason, yet a message back home to his employers, the cia. hey
back home to his employers, the cia. hey guys, i am not telling the full truth. this was discovered when he was brought back home and debriefed. when my father was in prison, the first three months, this kgb prison in downtown moscow, he is allowed to write letters home to his family. i have these letters in my collection. i have been able to data enter them. there is no censorship. when i first read through them there was no censorship. for the longest time i thought they allowed him to write his letters and he wrote them and they went out. not too long ago, maybe a year and a half or two years ago, i found some of dad's audiotapes. he was writing his book. i listened through them and i discovered to the audiotapes that they censored the letters in the following way. they would have him write the rough draft of the letter. they would look at it, they would scratch out this comment change this, moved this around and give it back to him. he would rewrite the letter. two or three drafts later they would allow him to send it out. the final letter looked like it had not been censored. from what my father was talking about in the audiotape, he felt that they were doing that to
prevent a code from being inserted in the letter. switching paragraphs, taking out sentences, putting a sentence in that did not change the meaning but was i his words. -- of his words. that is what he thought is they were preventing him from sending a code. the very first letter that my father wrote home was to his wife. shortly after that, the same day he wrote a letter to his mom and dad. the letter, he is trying to convince his mother not to worry. he is going through the interrogations. bright spot like questions of death. in the letter he is trying to make sure that you she is aware -- that she is aware that he is ok and being treated better than he expected. i will read this first letter that my dad wrote from moscow. his first letter to his mom and dad dated 26 may of 1960.
"dear mom and dad, i was told i could write a letter to you and barbara. i have finished the letter to barbara and i am writing to you. i sincerely hope you are both well. i was very worried about how the news would affect you. mom, please take care of yourself and believe me when i say i am being treated better than i expect it to be. -- expected to be. i get more than enough to eat and plenty of sleep. i have been furnished books to read and i get to walk in the fresh air every day that it does not rain. so you see, there is no need to worry. dad, you see that mom takes care of her self, do not let her worry about herself that all the worry in the world cannot accomplish anything. i know that you know that i am in a bad situation. i do not know what will happen. i do know the investigation and interrogation are going on. after they are over there will be a trial. i am being tried for espionage. according to article two of the criminal code, i can be punished
from seven to 15 years imprisonment and death in some cases. where i fit in, i do not know. that will be for the courts to decide. i maybe should not tell you this , tell you what the punishment may i maybe should not tell you this , tell you what the punishment may be, but you should know the truth. i am sorry for all of this, sorry for the pain and anxiety i am still causing you. when i first arrived here i had no appetite. all i could do was think about you and barbara and the worry and anxiety i was causing. believe me i am sincerely sorry , for this. when i bailed out of the plane i got a black eye. other than that i was in good health. a lady doctor has treated me and everything is fine. on may 2 i was taken on a tour of moscow. i enjoyed it. it is a beautiful city and the people here seem very proud of it. i have been told there has been a lot of press about me in the states.
i was also told that an article appeared in one of the papers where you asked for permission to come and see me. i was told that if the u.s. government gave you permission that you would be allowed to see me if you came. i would prefer you wait until the trial, or after when i could tell you the results. i will leave the decision of when to come up to you. i would hate for you to go to all through the -- told through all the expense of coming here, even though i want to see you, i don't want you to go through that expense. have also written barbara about this. tell all the sisters and their families hello for me and tell them that i am as fine as could be expected. i know that you worry about me but i do not want you to. i assure you i am being treated good and much better than expected. i guess you have the impression that i had before that i would be treated badly. it is not so. it is dark outside now so i should go to bed. i am anxiously a waiting -- awaiting a letter for josh from
-- a letter from you. i get lonely here and spend might spare time reading. -- spend my spare time reading. please take care of yourself. remember that i love all of you very much and miss you more than i can say. may god bless all of you and keep you well. your son, francis. ps, my return address is, mr. frances g powers." ussr moscow. street number two. this is the first letter dad writes home. i think there are about 85 letters. two of mom and dad and to his first wife. i found the letters that my grandparents and aunts and uncles wrote to him in prison.
he writes one, he gets one back. i tried to put them in order see can follow what the dialogue. it's hard to follow but we have done our best job getting it into chronological order. i discovered that my father had i discovered that my father had his first wife's letters. i could not find her letters. when he came home he got his when he came home he got his letters back and he gave her letters back to her. i think that is what happened since i cannot i'm in our files by the footlockers of my fathers. another interesting -- interesting thing i found out and published is at that my
grandfather, oliver powers, dad's dad was very cantankerous. very stubborn. he was a coal miner in southwest virginia. he was a shoe cobbler and owned a shoe shop and would do the shoes for the minors. i think my father and myself have that cantankerousness in us. us. he and -- they are writing a world leader and a convicted spy in a federal penitentiary. he is trying to do anything he can to get the release of his boy. i will read you the first letter that i found to root off -- rudolph to my grandfather. dear colonel abel. i'm the father of francis gary powers who is connected with the plane incident of several weeks ago. i am sure you are familiar with his international incident and the fact that my son is being held by the soviet union on in -- on an espionage charge. you can understand the concern that a father would have for his son and for a strong desire to have my son released and brought home.
my present feeling is that i would be more than happy to approach the state department and the president of the united states for in exchange for the -- for an exchange for the release of my son. by this, i mean that i would urge you and do everything possible to have my government release you and return you to your country if the powers in your country would release my son and let him return to me. if you are so inclined to go along with this arrangement, i would appreciate you advising me and advising the powers in your country along these lines. i would appreciate hearing from you as soon as possible. very truly yours, oliver powers. this was a shock to me. i never knew before getting the letters together that my grandfather helped to start the process of the exchange between colonel rudolf abel, the soviet spy, and my father. to my surprise and delight, i also found rudolph abel's letter back to my grandfather. on june 12 he responds.
rudolph abel, number 816, for the letter of june 2 received june 10. mr. oliver powers, dear mr. powers, as much as i appreciate and understand the concern for the safety and return of your son, i regret to say that all things considered, i am not the person to whom your request should have been directed. [laughter] obviously this should have been my wife. [laughter] unfortunately by order of the department of justice, i am not permitted to write to my family and cannot convey your request to them directly. sincerely yours, abel. at the time when able is in prison, every letter to and from his jail cell is intercepted and read by the cia and/or fbi. the fbi gets wind that my grandfather had the audacity to write rudolph abel. two guys in suits show up, go
into the shoe store, mr. powers, please do not meddle in our affairs. you could make it worse for your son. we will take it from here. sure enough, they did. they get in touch with rudolph abel's attorney, who was james donovan. james donovan is the attorney highlighted in spielberg's film "bridge of spies." donovan prevented abel from getting the death penalty. he suggested exchanging one for the other in the future. sure enough, this is what he does. he brokers the exchange behind the scenes talking to the soviets and the east germans, stepping on a good -- on egg shells trying to get the release of my father for rudolph abel. china also get in the release of frederick pryor, an american student who was caught in east berlin as the wall was going up. he was able to do this
behind-the-scenes negotiations. on february 10, a cold, and dark foggy morning, to spies on the spies on the use side of the bridge in pots dan, germany. on one side is a kgb's by -- kgb spy, rudolph abel. on the other side is my father with his kgb entourage. on the other side is my father. they are positively id. they walk home to their respective freedoms. rudolph abel returns home a hero of the soviet union. a parade in his honor. postage stamps in his likeness. my father returns home to an american public that does not know what to make of this event. there have been editorials written in the newspaper that my father had defect it, landed the plane, had spilled his guts and told the soviets everything he knew, or had not followed orders and committed suicide.
all of which were part truths, mistruths and innuendos of the time. he was debriefed by cia. kelly johnson, the designer of the airplane, air force officials and state department officials. three weeks of debriefing at a safe house in maryland followed by a senate select committee hearing downtown washington, d.c. three of the senators that were on the committee that reviewed my father's case where prescott bush, president bush's grandfather, barry goldwater out of arizona and senator russell. the house office building is now named after him in downtown washington, d.c. there are eight hours of deliberation back and forth. at the end of the session my father is given a standing ovation, a pat on his back and good job for your country. he has been exonerated for any wrongdoing. but the miss information continue to circle -- circulate around. even today it continues to circulate around.
which is one of the reasons i want the book to be published. which is titled letters from a soviet prison. the personal journal and correspondence of cia you to pilate -- u-2 pilot francis powers. it has a forward by khrushchev. khrushchev's son. we have been friends for 20 plus years. he was a professor at brown university when i first met him. since that time back 20 plus years ago, we have been on several panel discussions and several lecture venues around the country. he and i have no ill feelings towards each other or towards our fathers. we look at it from a historic perspective. after dad was returned, this misinformation was still circulating around. even today continues to circulate around. partly because of the internet. we all know that everything you read online is true. [laughter] therefore these kids in high school doing reports are in college doing research think everything online is correct.
they will do a paper. they will go to may 1, 1960, february of 1962. they will find misinformation, write about it, turn into a professor for a grade, they get it back. misinformation perpetuates itself. often times students and sometimes scholars may not find the information they are looking for because it did not happen in 1961, 1962. for example, 1998, some 38 years after the shootdown, the cia and the air force hosts a conference in washington, d.c. -- declassification conference in washington, d.c. it helps to set the record straight in regards to my father's performance and the u-2 incident. my father followed all of his orders. my father was never ordered to commit suicide. the pen that he took with him, a little pen concealed in a hollow out silver dollar, dollar opens up, this was not an actual replica of the one that my
father kerry, but it gives you an example of what you can hide that my father carried, but it gives you an example of what you can hide in a silver dollar. he took it out, he thought about using it, he decides to throw away the dollar, thinking it would be the first souvenir a russian would want. he puts the pin in this -- and in this strip shirts -- strip search it was found. he is already in enough trouble. he did not want to have a murder conviction on top of an espionage conviction. he is already in enough trouble. the soviets test the device on a dog. the dog dies in 20 seconds from a fix the nation. -- from expectation. asphyxiation. the poison on the needle such -- shuts down the nervous system. what i found your my research is if the pilot had take it -- pilot had taken the needle, his central nervous system would have shot down and he would've died from what appeared to be lack of oxygen. as you probably know, the left hand of the government does not always know what the right hand of the government is doing.
the pilots were never told what the cover story was. that the u-2 pilot had radio trouble with his equipment. the cover story went hand-in-hand with the pilot using the device. the device was optional to take and optional to use at the pilot's discretion in the event of torture. this was how it was explained to my father. my father was cleared of wrongdoing. he followed orders, he did not give away useful information to the soviets that they did not already know. he was cleared in 1962 by the senate, but then in 1998 he was further cleared when the cia in -- and the air force hosted the declassification conference. that conference showed that the u-2 program was a joint cia and u.s. air force operation. one could not exist without the other. it was civilian pilots and civilian planes because it was the cia.
but they used military bases and military personnel to assist with the mission planning, whether planning and other aspects of the mission. that opened up the door for dad to be awarded some metals. -- some medals. in 2000, may 1, the 40th anniversary of the shoe don't, you would -- he was awarded with the pow medal. the distinguished frying -- flying cross and the directors medal from the cia. we were very honored and humbled as a family to know that our government stepped up to the plate and posthumously awarded my father as a hero to the country. as an added bonus, in june of 2012, the air force awarded my father with the silver star. so the family we were very , honored and humbled to know that our government came full circle. they acknowledge my father as a hero to the country and help to -- helped to set the record
straight. it goes to show that is never too late to set the record straight. we are very honored to know they did that after all that time. this gets back to the point about the misinformation. misinformation continues to circulate around. kids were doing research and even scholars may not find this information in 1998, 2000 or 2012 because it did not happen when the shootdown happen or -- happened or when the exchange happened. this is a reason i wanted to publish this book, "letters from a soviet prison" that would detail my dad's dots and feelings and -- might dad's feelings and thoughts while he was incarcerated. he is training agents him what to do if captured. working for the cia for about six months. how to go through an interrogation, how to appear to cooperate when you are not giving them any information of use. dad does this for six months, gets hired in early 1963 for
lockheed aircraft corporation. he is a u-2 test pilot flying them in california. he flies goes between 63 and -- 1963 in 1970. -- 1963 and 1970. in 1970 he writes his autobiography called "operation overflight" that details his account of the u-2 incident. his co-author is curt gentry. his next book after this, "helter-skelter," this one put him on the map, the other made him a lot of money. he was a family friend for years and years. he passed away a few years ago. one of my dad's closest friends as result of writing the book together. dad writes this in 1970. the same month it is published lockheed lets them go. some people think it was coincidence. my father believed that because he published his memoirs, he ruffled somebody's feathers, the government contractor lockheed was asked to let him go.
there is no official proof i have found to confirm that. but that is what my father believed and i wanted to show -- share that with you today. after lockheed he is on the lecture circuit. some might remember the soupy sales show. johnny carson show. late-night talk shows of the era. then in he gets a job working 1972 for kgio radio station. in the san fernando valley, flying a cessna. reporting news, weather and traffic for the rush-hour commutes. he gets a job with nbc television flying their helicopters reporting on news, weather and traffic for the evening news. a year and a half into those assignments, august first, 1977, helicopter runs out of gas and it crashes. he and the cameramen were killed in the accident. passages from the soviet prison
and what my father had gone through. before i opened this up for questions i want to mention one thing about the cold war museum that i found it in 1996 to honor cold war veterans, preserve cold war history and educate kids about this time period. i moved to virginia in 1992 to continue my research. national archives, cia retirees and trying to find out more information about my father. i was at george mason university going through my graduate going through my graduate degree. i started to give lectures to high school students in the area. nine times out of 10 i would walk into a classroom to give a talk on the u-2 incident and get blank stares from the kids. talk on the u-2 incident and get blank stares from the kids. they thought i was there to talk about the u2 rock band. this was the first clue that something had to be done to preserve cold war history.
if you years later in 1996, i founded the cold war museum. nine times out of 10 i would walk into a classroom to give a what i thought would take three years and not be too difficult, it took 15 years. we finally got brick-and-mortar november 11 of 2011. we opened up in virginia. 45 miles from washington, d.c.. two hours from richmond, virginia. it is a former army communication base used by nsa, cia, army security agency to monitor you let tronic and -- monitor electronic and signal intelligence from around the world during world war ii -- from around the world during world war ii. it was closed down in the mid-1990's. later in the mid-1990's it was designated as a revitalization area. the governor of virginia appointed eight task force. -- a task force. for the last 20 years they have been hoping to revitalize it.
there is a brewery, a winery, a museum, homes, faa has a hub that monitors air traffic in the east coast. a couple government contractors and hundreds of thousands of cars go by this location every day between gainesville and up to 66 corridor. more information online, cold war.org. we have an extensive collection of cold war artifacts. items from the uss liberty, overhead reconnaissance platforms, sr 71, u-2, spy satellites. we saved and salvaged the civil defense headquarters for washington, d.c. we do spy tours in washington. if you're interested, please let me know and we take a group of people up to the area and do a spy tour of washington and then back down to richmond.
more information online at cold war.org. one of the last things i want to point out. up here on stage, this is one of the letters, the envelopes that my father would make in prison. he would make these envelopes as a quota, that was his job in prison and he would use the same letters to write home to his family. this is what the standard envelope would look like that he would make and then write letters to an insert and mail home. the little items over here, we have nesting dolls, this is a set my father brought home from prison as a souvenir, along with a little plastic dog that he also brought home. my father was able to bring home a few items. they did not allow him to come home with rubles. rubles were illegal to take out of the country. they took him the day before he went to east germany to spend
his rubles. he brought a few items home for family and friends. we have the mobile exhibit it -- exhibit that i take around the country. it will be set up at the sac museum. the strategic air command and aerospace museum in omaha, nebraska starting to ninth of dad -- june 9 of this year in 2018. if you're interested you can go see it. it was displayed here for the 50th anniversary back in 2010. a very big thank you to the museum history of culture. to the virginia historical society to have me a part of this series. i would be glad to open us up for q&a. thank you very much. [applause] what i think we have to do is wait for the gentleman to come around with the microphone. if you have a question, raise your hand and he will get to you as soon as he can. >> thank you for a very interesting discussion. i wondered if our government knew about the capability of
soviets shooting down the plane? did they think that he was out of range, and what the date -- what did they tell your father about being shot down? mr. powers: the gentleman is asking about the capabilities of the soviet union. did our government think they had that technology? at the time, on or about may 1, they knew the soviets improve their weapon system. -- improved their weapon system. the original missile, the s a one could reach 60,000 feet. for the first four or five years of these flights the planes are flying at 70,000 feet so they were safe. over four years of research and development, they improve their -- the soviets improve their weapon system. on the april 9 mission, prior to the may 1 mission, a photograph was brought back of the essay to 2 base, a new and
improved missile being developed in the soviet union. my father's mission parameters for may 1 was where the missile base was shown to be developing. he was to fly over it and find out if it was operational. he found out firsthand it was. [laughter] mr. powers: up until that point they did not think they have the capability. they did not think they were that far ahead. on may 1, when you throw up a -- throw up eight missiles they wrap the right place at the right time. the plane and the pilot were at the wrong place at the wrong time. one missile exploded behind the tail section. one missile killed a pilot in friendly fire. that one hit a mig. the other six missiles, we do not know it happened to them but they did not hit any targets, they fell back to earth. >> the film emphasizes rudolph abel's attorney and you have not mentioned the attorney that i
recall as carl mcintyre from southwest virginia. could you comment on his role? mr. powers: the lady is asking about carl mcafee. he was an attorney in southwest virginia. his law practice was above my grandfather's shoe shop in norton. when my grandfather gets winded that his boy has been shot down, he goes up to cloud and says, -- to carl and says, what do i do? carl and my grandfather worked together and try to figure out a way to release my father. carl is trying to get in touch with my dad but there is no communication allowed from outside sources. my father's legal defense team consisted of a soviet defense attorney who was the court appointed attorney. one distinction i want to mention is in america, you are innocent until proven guilty. in the soviet union you are guilty until proven innocent.
little distinction there. [laughter] the attorney that represented my father did not once object to any question that was asked. basically, nodded his head and my father was up on stage at the docket doing his best to prevent the release of information and to make sure that he conducted himself accordingly. carl mcafee did help my grandfather tremendously but did not have access to my father to represent him. two other attorneys from virginia appointed by the virginia bar association were allowed to go to the soviet union. they were flown over and tried to get in touch or my father and help him. they were not allowed access. he was only allowed to be represented by the court appointed defense attorney. >> i have a comment and a question. the comment is thank you and
, your family for your father's courage, sacrifice and patriotism. >> thank you very much. [applause] >> my question is, have you found any major news outlet in this country that has run a true story on your dad? is that still something you are looking for? mr. powers: as a result of the medals being awarded in 2012, posthumously, all of the major news networks have run stories. there have been books that have been written since then that are very accurate. any book by the british author is very accurate. there are other books from it historian whoial wrote the book made a. -- may day. dad's autobiography, very good book. [laughter]
mr. powers: horses mouth. and of course letters from a soviet prison. as a result of this lecture today, it is my understanding it will be broadcast on c-span's history tv. that network will die vonage -- divulge the truth. for those of you with questions i will be glad to talk with you one-on-one while you are getting a book. >> i have several questions. i do not know enough about russian history. is mayday a result of this incident? or was mayday already a holiday? mr. powers: mayday was already a holiday. it was the highest of holidays in the soviet union. it is a socialist holiday. the workers holiday and the worker's paradise. it was a day for workers to be honored and respected for the labor that they produce in a
country. it happened to be may first for the mission, which turned out to be a bad day for the mission. because everybody is on holiday. not a lot of air traffic in the skies over the soviet union. easier for them to pick him up on radar. >> was it planned for mayday knowing that mayday was a holiday? mr. powers: no. the mission was not planned for mayday thinking about holiday. eisenhower said and the -- in the parameters for this mission, no mission can happen after may 1. that was the deadline he imposed. april 27, 28th, 29th, weather, clouds, storms, cannot get a good picture of the soviet union. may 1, clouds separate, sun comes out, dad goes. just a coincidence.
i think that is all the time we have for questions. i appreciate you coming out. thank you very much. [applause] mr. powers: i will be at the front desk. seen me up there and i will be glad to talk to you one-on-one. >> up next on american history tv, the leadership of george washington's mount vernon took the rare step of holding a press conference in hopes of preventing the building of a natural gas compressor station within the site of the first president's home. a development, they say, that will deprive visitors of enjoying the pristine riverside view that washington new. -- knew. this possibility prompted the national trust for historic preservation to include mount vernon in its 2018 list of america's 11 most endangered historic sites.