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Posted on Oct 27, 2008 in War College

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

Gerald D. Swick

FGPJ: A mobile exhibit on the U-2 incident has been on tour nationally and internationally for 12 years. Currently, it is near Perham, Minnesota, at the ITOW Museum (In Their Own Words Veterans Museum) through Nov. 1. It will then be shipped to the New Berlin Library in Wisconsin and will be there Nov. 24, 2008, through April 29, 2009. I’m looking for other venues after that date.

It started at the Bodo Conference, where I first displayed items. Then the National Reconnaissance Office—whose cover had just been blown— invited me to have a display in their building in 1996. That same year, the CIA was gearing up for its 50th anniversary and they contacted me about expanding the exhibit for their headquarters through most of 1997. That’s when the display became a full-blown exhibit and got written up in major newspapers, and then other museums started contacting me for bookings.


It’s been shown at places as widespread as the National War College at Fort McNair, the Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, NM, the Allied Museum in Berlin, Germany, etc.

ACG: You also conduct a Spy Tour of Washington, D.C. Tell us a little about that.

FGPJ: Actually, it’s a partnership between us and Carol Bessette. She started spy-oriented walking tours; we worked together to create a bus tour of safe houses and other sites around the Washington area. For instance, we go to the former Café where a Soviet spy escaped from his CIA handlers. All proceeds go to support The Cold War Museum, but these aren’t just Cold War sites. The tourists get to hear a briefing about Civil War espionage at Lafayette Park.

ACG: Both East and West could claim some victories and some defeats in the Cold War. What do you think the greatest victories and worst defeats of each were?

FGPJ: There is a very famous quote from Gorbachev, "The end of the Cold war was our common victory." I have to agree; we ended the Cold War without a nuclear disaster.

In 1983, a Soviet officer, Stanislav Petrov, received orders to launch nuclear missiles because a computer glitch showed five missiles had been launched by the United States. He thought that made no sense; the U.S. wouldn’t fire just five, so he disobeyed orders and stalled long enough for the mistake to be recognized. As a result, he saved the world.

On our end, I have to be partial to the U-2 program as one of the most successful Cold War programs. U-2s are still flying, still protecting us 50 years later.

The Russian spy network was fabulous. They had agents around the world. The KGB was one hell of a spy organization. So is our CIA; you only hear about their failures, because they don’t want you to hear about their successes.

ACG: The recent Russian incursion into Georgia led some to fear a new Cold War is beginning. What’s your take on that?

FGPJ: Did it ever end? The Cold War as we know it—between the U.S. and Soviet Union—is over because the USSR broke up, but the Cold War mentality is still with us. I think Putin wants to show they are still a force to be reckoned with. The Russians are a very, very proud people who have been invaded throughout the centuries, and they want to show they are still a powerful force in the world. So the military industrial complexes around the world will gear up. (Wryly:) Maybe it’ll help the economy.

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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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