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U-2 Pilot Powers Honored for Bravery

More than 50 years after his U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, Francis Gary Powers posthumously received one of the military’s highest decorations during a ceremony at the Pentagon on June 15, 2012.

Powers moved from the Air Force to CIA in 1956 to become one of the Agency’s first U-2 pilots. He flew 27 successful intelligence-gathering missions for the joint U.S. Air Force-CIA U-2 Reconnaissance Squadron before a Soviet surface-to-air missile hit his aircraft near Sverdlovsk on May 1, 1960. Powers survived the crash, and was imprisoned by the Soviet Union for 21 months. In 1962, he returned to the US, freed in a prisoner exchange. Powers died in 1977.

Gen. Schwartz presents the Silver Star to Powers’ grandchildren, Trey Powers and Lindsey Berry.
Gen. Schwartz presents the Silver Star to Powers’ grandchildren, Trey Powers and Lindsey Berry.
Details of the U2 program were declassified in 1998, increasing the public’s recognition of Powers’ service and heroism. Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet posthumously awarded Powers a Prisoner of War Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and a CIA Director’s Medal in 2000.

At the June 15 Pentagon ceremony, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presented the Silver Star—awarded for combat valor—to Powers’ grandchildren, Trey Powers and Lindsey Berry. The Powers were joined by more than 100 family members, friends, service members, and senior CIA officials.

Gen. Schwartz described Powers’ service as heroic and loyal, stating “For nearly 107 days, Captain Powers was interrogated and harassed by numerous Soviet secret police … Although weakened by lack of food, denial of sleep, and the mental anguish of constant interrogation, Captain Powers refused all attempts to glean from him sensitive information that would have proved harmful to the defense and security of the United States.”

The Powers family and Gen. Schwartz
The Powers family and Gen. Schwartz
At the Silver Star ceremony, Powers’ son, Gary, said, “We are very honored and humbled to be receiving this award on behalf of my dad. It is a very warm feeling to know that after 50 years, the record is being set straight, and Dad is being thanked for his accomplishments, his duty and his service to the country.”

 

 

 

To read more about Powers and the U-2 program, see the following articles:

A Look Back … The Cold War: Strangers on a Bridge

The U-2 Program: A Russian Officer Remembers

The U-2 Spyplane: Toward the Unknown, A New History of the Early Years

1959 U2 Flight Manual (PDF 18.0MB)


Historical Document
Posted: Jun 22, 2012 12:25 PM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:59 PM