What Became of Captain Gary Powers?

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British Navy mechanic Arthur Batchelor, one of the recently released Iranian hostages, has been criticized for "making a mockery of his capture in a series of sickening photos." I can't begin to imagine what it's like to be held in captivity, so I wouldn't think of passing judgment. But this got me thinking about Gary Powers, the pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the U.S.S.R. in 1960. I wondered what became of Captain Powers upon his return. Here's what I learned.

  • On February 10, 1962, after Powers had spent twenty-one months in a Soviet prison, the United States traded KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher (alias Rudolf Abel) "“ who had been captured in New York in 1957 "“ for Powers and American student Frederic Pryor. It was an old fashioned spy swap.
  • The Soviets salvaged the spy plane's surveillance camera and developed the photographs. Powers' survival pack, including 7500 rubles and jewelry for women, was also recovered. Both the survival pack and much of the U-2 wreckage are on display at the Central Museum of Armed Forces in Moscow.
  • Powers appeared before a Senate Armed Services Select Committee hearing, which included Senators Prescott Bush and Barry Goldwater. Although some had criticized the pilot for failing to destroy the camera (while others thought he should have taken his own life), the Committee determined that Powers followed orders, did not divulge any critical information to the Soviets, and conducted himself "as a fine young man under dangerous circumstances."
  • Powers worked as a test pilot for Lockheed from 1963 to 1970. In 1970, he wrote a book called Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident.
  • Sadly and strangely, Powers died in a helicopter crash on August 1, 1977, while working for television station KNBC.
  • Survived by his wife and two children, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • His widow's house was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake; she then relocated to Las Vegas. She passed away in 2004.
  • Powers was posthumously honored by the U.S. Air Force on the 40th anniversary of his plane being shot down. He was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Department of Defense Prisoner of War Medal, and National Defense medals - all of which he had been denied during his lifetime.

Thanks to the BBC, Matt's Today in History, the ReviewJournal and Wikipedia. That photo is his suit, which is on display at the Atomic Testing Museum in Vegas.

April 24, 2007 - 5:41am
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