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Son of downed Cold War U-2 pilot shares story with ‘Big Red One’ Soldiers

By J. Parker Roberts | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | December 14, 2015

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — When he was 12, Francis Gary Powers Jr. found out who his fa­ther was — or at least, who the world thought his father was.

Francis Gary Powers’ death in a helicopter crash in 1977 called the nation’s attention back to 1960, when the pilot — then working for the Central Intel­ligence Agency — and his U-2 reconnaissance aircraft were shot down during a mission over the Soviet Union. The elder Powers was captured, interrogated and held for two years before being released back to the United States, but not before the American pub­lic could question whether the pilot maintained his loyalty to his home country.

That pilot’s son shared his father’s story and his own with about 120 Soldiers of the 1st In­fantry Division Oct. 20 during a presentation at Fort Leavenworth.

The presentation included a preview for “Bridge of Spies,” the recently released Steven Spielberg film which tells the story of Pow­ers’ father’s capture and the efforts to bring him home.

“I hope they will come away with a feeling that there’s a lot more to Cold War history than meets the eye,” the younger Pow­ers said of the attendees.

Powers told the Soldiers that he became introverted following his father’s death, and later in life set out to find out more about his father’s ordeal, intent on separating fact from fiction.

“The more I learned, the more questions I had,” he said.

In the pursuit of those ques­tions, the younger Powers became an expert on Cold War history and eventually co-founded The Cold War Museum in Warrenton, Virginia.

“I am very proud of the fact that I helped to found The Cold War Museum to honor veterans, preserve history and educate fu­ture generations,” Powers said. “It started as a way to honor my Dad, to keep his history alive and to help set the record straight for him.”

Powers said the “Big Red One” audience was receptive during his presentation.

“I think they were interested in the subject matter, especially since this movie just hit,” he said. “I believe they have an interest in fact versus fiction — the story as the son tells it versus Hollywood as they tell it.”

Powers acted as a consultant on the film and met with Spiel­berg, the film’s star, Tom Hanks, and Austin Stowell, who por­trayed Powers’ father.

“He picked my brain about Dad, and what he was like,” Powers said. “Austin wanted to make sure that he portrayed my father as correctly and as accu­rately as possible.”

The Cold War expert said the actor’s portrayal was spot on, though hearing lines say­ing the elder Powers was “one of the most hated men in America” was jarring for his son.

    “The movie is very well done,” Powers said. “It accu­rately portrays the feelings of the time, and fortunately, at the very end it sets the record straight.”

    The film’s postscript, Powers said, recognized that the pilot did not divulge secret informa­tion during his interrogations or subsequent imprisonment.

    “It went very well,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steven Fer­nandez, 1st Infantry Division Artillery targeting officer, said about Powers’ presentation. “I got to learn a lot about what re­ally happened, instead of what didn’t happen.”

    Fernandez said he was inter­ested in learning more about the resiliency shown by the downed U-2 pilot during his captivity and beyond.

    “A lot of the things that we go through, and leadership, is resiliency and how we teach that to our subordinates and our Soldiers,” he said. “Finding out what everyone else has gone through, as far as resiliency, I think is a key piece to learning, self-learning, and being able to teach resiliency.”

 

Tag Resilience