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Posted on Oct 27, 2008 in War College

Francis Gary Powers, Jr., Interview – The Cold War Museum

Gerald D. Swick

Francis Gary Powers, Sr. and Jr. Courtesy of Francis Gary Powers, Jr.FGPJ: When I was growing up Dad was in a civilian capacity, first as a test pilot for Lockheed, flying the U-2, and later as a journalist. I remember dressing up in his U-2 flight suit. There’s a picture of me as an infant on a U-2 wing. I remember the author Curt Gentry coming over to talk with Dad and do research when they were working on their book (Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident.) When I was 8 – 11, I’d fly with Dad in station KGIL’s airplane.

I remember when he was hired by KNBC, an NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, to fly their news helicopter. He’d fly over our school or our house. I remember the sound of the rotors, a deep thud-thud-thud because the helicopter was so heavy, so I always knew when it was him passing over.


Sometimes I’d ride in a helicopter with him when he was flying to get practice in.

ACG: Your own connection to the Cold War is obvious, but what made you take the leap of starting The Cold War Museum?

FGPJ: Ah, well! As a result of my curiosity about my father, I started doing research in college. I talked to my mom and my sisters and aunts and uncles and that led to more questions. I talked to officials in Washington and other people who had been in the U-2 program. Everything led to more questions.

I realized I had to know more about the Cold War to understand the U-2 Incident in order to know more about my father. I began reading about the Cold War from the end of World War II to the breakup of the Soviet Union. I decided I needed to move closer to D. C. to learn more, so I moved to Fairfax, Virginia, which also let me get to know my extended family better, since both my mom and dad were from Virginia.

While taking my courses at George Mason University (He has a master’s degree in Public Administration/Nonprofit Management.), I started giving presentations to local high schools. I’d walk in and get blank stares. The kids thought I was there to talk about U2 the rock band. When I saw that they knew nothing about the U-2 Incident, that’s when I realized something had to be done to preserve Cold War history. I just didn’t know what.

I attended my first Cold War conference in Bodo, Norway, the place my father would have landed if he hadn’t been shot down. I’d just graduated college, and I didn’t have much money, but I bartered with the conference organizer for an airline ticket and hotel stay in exchange for bringing U-2 memorabilia with me.

When I was at this conference I came up with the idea to form The Cold War Museum. So it was three years from "We need to preserve the memory of veterans of the Cold War" to "Hey, I need to establish The Cold War Museum."

ACG: There is no building housing the museum that visitors can go to at the present time, is that correct?

The Cold War Museum logo. Courtesy of Francis Gary Powers, Jr.FGPJ: We are a signature away from a lease with Fairfax County for use of the former Lorton Nike missile base, 20 miles from Washington, DC.

We’ve been at this since 1996, over 10 years going from an idea to a review to a study, etc.

In 2006, Fairfax County accepted our proposal for using the Lorton Nike site for the permanent museum home. The site was already designated as a Cold War Historic Site, so this fit in very well. We then had to present a lease to them, in 2007. We got it back in 2008 and are working out details with the Fairfax County Park Authority. The devil’s in the details, but we should have a revised lease soon and expect to sign the lease in the next 3 – 6 months.

The county would like to see more money in our bank account to make sure we’re going to last, but donors that have indicated their interest in giving six and seven figures want to see a signed lease first. It’s a Catch-22. We’re moving forward very well, but slowly at times.

ACG: Your museum hosts a traveling exhibit that is scheduled to visit several states. What are some of the items in that exhibit?

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  1. thankyou for some of the important stuff that you put on this web page. It is all for a simple U.S History II class. and i thankyou for all of this.

  2. I remember, well, the day you responded to a job opening we had and you interviewed for. I recall asking if you were related to Francis Gary Powers and received a positive response. You were tentative and seemed to not want to speak of the U-2 incident. But we continued the chat and I related my thoughts and experiences as well as conversations with other, in the Air Force, about his mission and how he was not a traitor in our eyes. The media had done a terrible job of reporting his story. As you left, I told my wife, that I hoped that he felt better about what we had discussed and that he would do well.

    I had read of Gary Jrs. achievements and remember, a comment from my grandmother, that many times good can come from bad things. Congratulations, Gary, for the fine work you are doing and what you have accomplished.


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