Intrigue and espionage were the order of the day at the Lyceum when Gary Powers, Jr., came to speak about his famous father and his plans to preserve Cold War history with a museum in the DC area.
Powers, son of the famed aviator shot down over the former Soviet Union in the 1960 U2 incident, spoke to a crowd of about 60 people May 28, dispelling myths surrounding the incident and seeking backing for the project he has been working on for over a decade: establishing a Cold War museum.
Francis Gary Powers was flying a mission for the United States taking pictures of the former USSR in May 1960 when his U2, thought to be undetectable, was shot down and he was captured by the Soviets a major coup for the USSR, as the incident came at a tense period in the Cold War. After being interrogated in a notorious KGB prison, he was put through a show trial in Moscow and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was eventually released after 18 months when the Soviets traded him back to the U.S. for one of their own spies, Rudolph Abel.
Powers told of his road to becoming the advocate for preserving Cold War history he is today. When he was growing up, he said, he assumed that everyones father had the same daring stories to tell. I didnt understand the importance until it was too late to ask, Powers said. His father died in a helicopter crash in August 1977, when his son was 12. During college, Powers became interested in his fathers history and Cold War history as a whole, and began extensive research.
For many Americans including the crowd at the Lyceum who lived through the Cold War, Francis Gary Powers’ name evokes an immediate recall, and the Cold War brings back a lot of memories. It was a big part of our lives, said Alexandrian Kathy Strickland, who attended the talk.
Younger generations, for whom the Cold War is something learned about in history books rather than experience, are better prepared to talk about a different sort of U2, as Powers found when he did speaking tours and visited classrooms to talk about his fathers experiences. Nine times out of 10, Id walk into the room and get blank stares, he said. The kids thought I was there to talk about the band.
The Cold War Museum presumably will help clear that up. Powers said that his goals are to establish a physical facility to house Cold War artifacts, establish a Cold War library and build a Cold War Memorial to honor those who fought and lost their lives in the decades-long “war” whose name is something of a misnomer. It was a hot war people did die during this conflict, he said.
The plan is for the museum to be built on what was formerly Lorton Prison. The proposal is currently being reviewed by Fairfax County, with a decision to come in the next six months. John Hurley, a retired U.S. Airforce Reserve brigadier general who sits on the museum’s board and attended the talk, said the location would be ideal for a number of reasons. It has one of the largest Nike missile launcher sites in the world, and there are a wealth of Cold War sites locally Powers organization currently offers tours of spy sites in the metro area. Powers said that he plans to have the first doors to the museum open within three years of the countys approval of the plan.
The museum was established in 1996, and currently exists as a collection of artifacts that travel between museums. Powers initial business plan stated he would be done in three years, and 12 years later, here we are, he said. However, he is finally within striking distance of his goal.
Its a life endeavor, he said with a grin. I will either get this museum open or die trying.